Carolinas Association for Passenger Trains
Board Meeting
North Charleston, SC, Amtrak Station
July 17, 2021 Open: 1:10 PM

Present: (In person and via Zoom) Martin Wheeler, Lill Mood, John Bobinyec, Jim Frierson, Don Yehle, Larry Libater, Ed Locklin, Gayle McCurry, Joel McCurry, David Robinson, Jim Tilley, Bill Cole, Don Stewart and Phil Astwood

Secretary's Report: Phil Astwood distributed the minutes from the May Zoom meeting via e-mail. Martin Wheeler pointed out that under SC/NC Rail and Transit – “Blue Line Extension” should be “Blue Line Ballantyne Extension”. Approved with correction.

Treasurer's Report: Ralph Messera e-mailed a finance report. The current balance is $1,881.99. Expense to renew the website was $133.21. There are currently 47 members. There are also 2 corporate members and 2 spouses for a total of 51. Of these 31 are from North Carolina, 9 from South Carolina and 11 from other states.

Consideration of Open Board Member Position: One additional Board member is needed to comply with our by-laws which require 12 members proportionally divided between NC and SC. Several names were suggested at the last meeting. David Robinson suggests Joel McCurry even though his wife Gayle is already on the Board. David will look at members of the Western NC Rail Alliance. Adam Rossen had volunteered to help if needed. David will follow-up with him. Don Stewart suggests Laura Padgedt a former city council member from Wilmington, NC. In discussion of proposed highspeed rail routes between Charlotte and Atlanta, Don Yehle read from a release posted yesterday (July 16) by the High Speed Rail Alliance that states that the Georgia DOT approved and released their Tier I environmental impact statement which evaluates three different routes for this project. They recommended the 220 mph route that does not incorporate existing routes. They claim that this line is a critical step in meeting the needs of a growing “Piedmont-Atlantic mega region”. Having mentioned several possible new board members, we will check with them and bring this up again at the next meeting.

Update on CAPT Newsletter and Website Issues: The website has been renewed. All newsletters are now available. Don and Martin have been working on the newsletters and have produced one for each of the past 7 months. Outside contributions are welcome. This arrangement has worked well with only minor problems. It would be nice to include the announcement for the next meeting. Perhaps a 2-pager in the future.

Economic Feasibility Study for Charlotte–Columbia–Charleston Rail Route: This effort was initiated by an offer from Sen. Lindsey Graham’s office to allow us input into the current discussions on The President’s large infrastructure bill. We were not well prepared to take part at that point, but this opportunity led to discussions of what we could do locally to initiate a study of the costs and benefits of Charlotte-Columbia-Charleston passenger rail service. There are several formats available for such studies. The cost of a study ranges from $2,500 to $65,000 depending on what one wants to know. Martin and others spoke with Sean Jeans-Gayle at RPA and collected information on how RPA uses such studies to support the initiation of rail service. Jim Frierson sent information about our discussions to Columbia’s Mayor Benjamin and Lill Mood invited him to attend this meeting, but so far neither has received a response. Since Benjamin is not running for reelection this fall, it is probably important to find out how the candidates feel about passenger rail and it will also be important to let more people know about our intention to initiate some sort of study. Lill pointed out that the League of Women Voters sends a questionnaire to each candidate and makes their responses available on line. This year there will be a question on public transportation. In the past the late Frank Ezell (sp?) worked on a grant to fund a study of passenger rail in SC. Perhaps some of those in the SC upstate who worked with Ezell might still be interested in such a project. Perhaps there are some associated with the upstate rail museum who would be interested. If there is a transportation writer at ‘The State’ in Columbia it would help if they could create some articles on our efforts. Lill pointed out that Charleston’s ‘Post and Courier’ is the only locally owned paper in the state. She would be happy to make contact with the paper. Don Yehle said that CAPT has excellent proposals for the location of future passenger rail routes and station stops in SC, but we need to know how much such a system would cost. To determine that requires studies such as mentioned above. What we need to do is search for ways to find the necessary funding and find organizations we could partner with to support the type of study that would collect the information we need. John Bobinyec felt that this was really ‘step 2’ and that ‘step 1’ is to cultivate interest in the possibility of Charlotte to Charleston rail service, and then ask for the help to find the money to initiate such a project. Martin gave a brief outline of the size of the studies available. For $2,500 we could get estimates of gains or losses (costs and effects) and ridership for a single location. For costs of $10,000, $25,000 and $65,000 we could get increasingly more complex and in-depth data of this type. If the funding were available, we could request RPA to arrange for these studies. Don Yehle pointed out that these discussions about funding studies resulted from his and Jim Frierson’s virtual meeting with Sen. Graham’s office and the offices of other SC members of Congress on RPA’s ‘Day on the Hill’. However, as several board members pointed out, we need to know a lot more about how funds were raised for other studies that have already been done in other areas. Are there matching grants available? How might we solicit donations? Jim will check with the Central Midlands COG (Council of Governments) which has done a study of rail service in the past. In addition Martin pointed out that we will most likely have to renew our 501c3 status in order to become eligible. We had an attorney in Columbia arrange this for us in the past. According to Ralph Messera, it will cost about $1,500 to renew it now. Perhaps we could try “Legal Zoom”. Martin summed up our discussion so far as: 1. Studying funding sources, 2. Providing more information about our plans, 3. Partnering with other 501c3 organizations, and 4. A ‘Fund Me’ campaign. John Bobinyec pointed out that Charleston might not be the best end point for the proposed train. Savannah would be a better choice since it is already an end point for the ‘Palmetto’ and thus has service facilities that Charleston does not have. The next step was to assign tasks: Don and Martin will work on the wording for a ‘Go Fund Me’ appeal placed in the newsletter. Perhaps we could extend this to Facebook and begin with a low goal as a ‘proof of concept’. Another task could be to explore options on social media. Lill will contact the ‘Post and Courier’. Jim Frierson will contact the COG for information and perhaps the possibility of forming a partnership. Jim will also contact the Hub City Museum in Spartanburg to find out about efforts in the past to fund a study. John suggested we close down our online discussion group if we want to set up a Facebook page which would serve the same function. Don Yehle moved to spend $20 to join Zoom and thus be able to have continuous meetings. This passed. David will send details to Martin on how to do this.

Update on the SC Resolution Drive: Nothing new.

Western NC Rail Alliance: David will send out the minutes from the most recent meeting. (June 2, ‘21). Martin summarized the minutes in which Jason Ortner talked about Amtrak’s plans for a line to Asheville, the chairman of the committee talked about the Andrews to Murphy rail project (freight) and Dan Gurley reported that state funding is secure for the Piedmonts and the Carolinian. David will join the Alliance.

Update on NC On Track: David as been active recording rail activity at NC stations. All of his material is on YouTube (transportcams). Martin can contribute historical video. He has video of the first Carolinian test train.

RPA Rail National Fall DC Advocacy Event: The event will be Sept 19-22. Don Yehle cannot attend and asks if there is anyone from SC who could go. Jim Frierson will check. This is a meeting of the RPA membership and board.

Update on News in NC and SC Affecting Transit and Rail Passenger Service: Bill Cole is concerned about the change in the Crescent’s schedule which has it leave New Orleans later and has a lot of recovery time in Birmingham and Charlotte. The result is that it leaves Charlotte only a little over an hour ahead of the Carolinian. The same problem exists for 80 and 92 in Raleigh where they often run almost together. Construction at all three new stations (Harrisburg, Lexington & Hillsboro) is ready to begin, but NS still says 'No'. Ridership is strong on the Carolinian and the Piedmonts. We need to make contact with Matthew Simmons who has replaced Allan Paul. (At this point 3 or 4 people started to talk simultaneously. I have no idea what was being said.) According to Jim Frierson work is still going on to solve the Assembly Street grade separation problem in Columbia, but he does not know about anything new. They have selected some alternative routes, but not yet picked one to use. Ed Locklin pointed out that Amtrak’s new “wish list” of routes looks very much like the map from the High Speed Rail Alliance except that there are certain small gaps on each which do not match. Ed also asked about the food service on eastern trains and Jim Tilley said he was told that all service would be back by the end of the year. Martin said CATS should get $90 million back from the Federal Government because of money that wasn’t spent on the extension project. A study is being done for the Silver Line that might come along in about 10 years.

Planning for Future Meetings: September 18 - In Charlotte to have a look at the new streetcars. Streetcar service starts Aug 21. We need to select a meeting place with a wi-fi connection for Zoom.

Adjourn: 3:25 PM