Carolinas Association for Passenger Trains
Board Meeting
Greensboro Station, Greensboro, NC
July 15, 2017 Open - 2:00 PM

Present - Martin Wheeler, Gene Kirkland, Ed Locklin, Bob Bischoff, Ralf Poyle(?), David Robinson, Dan Smith, John Bobinyec, Harry Clapp, Ralph Messera, Bill Cole, Leon DeBaer, Dave Turnage & Phil Astwood

Secretary's Report - The minutes of the May 20th meeting were distributed by Phil Astwood via e-mail with hard copies handed out at the meeting. The minutes were approved as distributed.

Treasurer's Report - Gene Kirkland distributed copies of the treasurer’s report for the period June 18, 2017 to July 14, 2017. The report showed an opening balance of $968.18, expenses for postage, printing & website of $314.50, income from dues and contributions of $385.00 leading to an ending balance of $1,038.68. The association currently has 190 members.

Update on the Resolution Drive in SC in Support of Expanded Rail Passenger Service: - Several months ago the Board asked Phil Astwood to send an additional mailing of the resolution and accompanying material to the 8 largest cities that had not responded to the earlier two mailings. Phil reported that these mailings were sent in April, but as yet no city has replied. Martin Wheeler said that about a year ago a vote in Charleston approved a plan to establish several “bus rapid transit” lines in the area. One of these would use a piece of land currently carrying tracks that run down the peninsula to the former Charleston Station. (This incidentally is the former route of the “Best Friend of Charleston” which likely makes it the oldest rail line in the country). Now, in addition to those who would like the replace the tracks with buses, a group called “Friends of the Low Country” is seeking about $19 million to purchase the track from Norfolk Southern so that they can develop a walking trail and a small park. As yet the City has not made a decision on this, but the group’s option to buy the land runs out in August, so some action is likely soon. This is important to us because these tracks are part of our plan to establish passenger service between Columbia and Charleston; a plan which the Charleston City Council supported when it signed our resolution several years ago. The Board approved Martin’s offer to write a letter on behalf of CAPT to Mayor Tacklenburg reminding him of the City’s earlier support for passenger rail. Martin will send a copy of the letter to Phil. Gene will prepare a list of all SC members of CAPT and Phil will send a copy of the letter to each.

Update on CAPT Fostering Creation of an Association similar to Virginians for Highspeed Rail (VHSR) - David Robinson said that he had made no progress as yet, but promised a report at the September meeting that would outline plans for setting up such an organization. He asked Martin to suggest a couple of Board members who might be able to help him. David suggested that we could include SC in the plan (previously it was to be for NC only) and that this might help our resolution drive.

Update on News in NC and SC Affecting Transit and Passenger Rail - NC – Gene Kirkland said that NCDOT decided against buying bi-level cars for the Piedmonts due to the cost. However, they have bought a lot of spare parts from the former circus trains and apparently 8 cars that will be rebuilt for use on the Piedmonts. In other notes, CSX is planning to shut down its Raleigh yard. The new Raleigh Union Station is still on schedule to open next January, but the Amtrak offices will not move into it from their present location on the other side of the tracks until later in the spring when their lease expires. Several members agreed that the third Piedmont frequency is expected to begin when the station opens. Martin said that progress is being made on the Charlotte maintenance facility. The office building is complete and they are grading the area for track. The double-tracking project Greensboro-Charlotte is complete. Martin Reported that completion of the Charlotte Gateway station is still 6-7 years away. The first phase should begin in early 2018 funded by $72 million, $30 million of which will come from a TIGER grant. The first phase will consist of track, structure and signal work as well as an intercity platform and associated facilities at the station. The completed station will be located on West Trade Street at the site of the Southern Railway Station that was torn down in 1963. Bill Cole pointed out that before the new station is ready over 1 million passengers will pass through the current station, and considering its state of disrepair, all concerned should realize that injury and resulting litigation are highly likely unless appropriate repairs are made now. David Robinson suggested that Charlotte’s Convention and Visitors Bureau should be made aware of the condition of the current station and suggested that some Charlotte city officials be invited to the opening of the Raleigh station so they could see what Charlotte ought to have. David reported that the Western NC Group appears to have local support. They have incorporated and are planning a conference in Asheville on September 22nd. They have expanded their mission to include freight as well as passenger service, but they do not appear to be very well organized or clear about the mission. David will send Martin the agenda for the conference. At the request of local business and tourism interests, David prepared a presentation on the economic reasons to have the Palmetto and the Carolinian stop at Weldon, NC (north of Rocky Mount, near the Virginia line). The proposal was strengthened by NCDOT’s plan to build a new bridge across the Roanoke River that would facilitate access to the Weldon station. Apparently the proposal is going forward. Martin pointed out that in contrast to what was mentioned earlier, Allen Paul said recently that the Raleigh Station is scheduled for completion in February and that the third Piedmont frequency will begin then. Martin also said that the plans to extend the Carolinian to New Haven are still under discussion with a decision expected at the end of the year. Leon DeBaer said the “last mile” program that offers free transfer to buses at NC Amtrak stations appears to be going well.

SC – As he was unable to attend the meeting, Jim Frierson sent the following report which has been edited slightly: The North Charleston Intermodal Facility is proceeding although it is now 18 months behind schedule. Groundbreaking is now set for August 24th at 10:00 am.  FTA officials are planning to be in attendance for this.  Completion is now anticipated to be Fall 2018.  A consultant has been engaged to help the neighborhood improvement council set up a station history room in the new facility.  They want to use oral histories, photos and other items and there will even be a new historical marker set up outside.  I’m assuming some of this will tell the story of the old ACL station (built in 1956) that now stands on the site so there is a chance that the consultant team may be looking for old photographs that show the station during its construction or perhaps its early days when it was still new.   The Southeast Regional Rail Planning Study had their 4th stakeholder meeting recently on June 29th in Atlanta.  Doug Frate, SCDOT’s intermodal and freight director, attended the meeting. They were supposed to discuss “institutional and governance models and the final development of an overall vision.”   I will know more by our next meeting.     Finally, the new interim director of the COMET (Columbia’s bus system) has contacted me about making their facility available for our September 16 meeting in Columbia.  They have a very nice meeting room but she made it obvious that she has another motive for offering the room.  She would like for CAPT to begin a dialogue with other stakeholders in the Columbia area and have a meeting “with all parties (including our Mayor Benjamin) involved with any potential rail connection or vision of rail to attend a meeting at the COMET.”  The new director is very interested in including rail in the future plans of The COMET and the Midlands area to mitigate traffic congestion.  I told her we (CAPT) would be interested in having some sort of meeting with them (perhaps at a different time and place) to discuss this since transit has a definite role to play with passenger rail when it comes to the “last mile” scenario.  I can work with The COMET folks in having our September meeting there if everyone is OK with that. 

Update on CAPT newsletter and Website Issues - Website - John Bobinyec said he is planning to put the newsletter on the website, but is currently having trouble doing so. Newsletter - Gene Kirkland said he wants to devote the first page of the newsletter to CAPT’s current activities; the second page will have other news related to passenger rail; the third page will have the meeting announcement and agenda, and the fourth will hold information about the organization. Gene also said that our membership is slowly dropping and suggested that we consider placing copies of our newsletter in all of the Amtrak stations in NC and SC. We have done this in the past and it resulted in a significant increase in membership. This will raise printing costs, but Gene feels it will be worth it. We were offered a deal we have turned down in the past to advertise a CD of train songs in our newsletter in return for $1/CD sold to one of our members. The Board voted to turn down the offer again. Gene said he had replenished the stock of our brochure at NC welcome centers.

Amtrak Update - Ralph Messera reported that a House Appropriations Subcommittee proposed a FY2018 budget for Amtrak that contained figures much more generous than those in the Trump budget and slightly higher than FY2017. Overall they proposed $1.4 billion for Amtrak including $328 million for the Northeast Corridor. TIGER grants will be discontinued. These are for small projects, but have been very popular. Ralph also said the Wick Moorman (Amtrak president) is proposing decreasing the pitch on seating in an ‘economy class’ car. Bill Cole said that the Crescent is chronically late and the connection proposed by Amtrak between #79 and #19 in Charlotte for service from Richmond to Atlanta is “ridiculously inconvenient” and should be changed. Martin read an article he had written about the “Rally4Trains” program. This was organized by NARP to protest the proposed Trump budget for Amtrak that would end most long-distance service leaving over 200 cities without passenger service. Twenty rallies have taken place thus far including one at the Greenville, SC station. Ironically, the Greenville station became “unmanned” four days before the Rally leaving Florence, Columbia and Charleston as the only staffed stations in SC. Bill Cole pointed out that the Wilson, NC station is very small for the number of passengers it must handle each day. There was a brief discussion of the restoration of Gulf coast passenger service which CSX would like to avoid because the many draw bridges in the area preclude accurate time-keeping. Ralph noted that a recent court decision said that CSX could not be bound to any particular schedule. David again suggested that the loss of funding for long-distance trains should not be seen as a disaster, but rather an opportunity to franchise out the operation of those train; a plan which has proven to be very successful in the UK.

Reports from Officers and Directors - Martin said that Amtrak is beginning to run test trains to Roanoke. He also asked if funds that were supposed to be available for renovations to the Greensboro station were actually used and if so what was done. No one had any information about this.

Planning for Future Meetings - Columbia, SC - September 16, Charlotte, NC - November 18, Charleston, SC - January 20, 2018 and Raleigh, NC - March 17, 2018

Adjourn - 4:15 PM