FROM THE CAB - August 2022
By Martin Wheeler
Editor’s Note: Jim Frierson and Dr. David Robinson, CAPT Vice Presidents for
South and North Carolina, respectively, are major contributors to this
TWO RAIL ADVOCACY ORGANIZATIONS HAVE JOINT MEETING --
On Saturday, July 16th , the
Carolinas Association for Passenger Trains (CAPT) held its regular business meeting in Marion,
NC. However, this gathering was unique in that it was also a joint meet with the newly
constituted Western North Carolina Rail Committee. The committee has now incorporated
itself and is an organization with dues-paying members, officers, and regular meetings.
The purpose in holding a joint meeting was to allow members of CAPT to learn more about
what the Western North Carolina Rail Committee has done and is doing in the western part of
the state. Representing the group at this meeting were Co-Chairs, Ray Rapp, former State
Representative, and Steve Little, an attorney and the current Mayor of Marion, NC. It should
be noted that Steve is also an accomplished historian and author of several books on
railroading history in the western part of North Carolina.
Representing CAPT were six members including President Martin Wheeler; Treasurer Ralph
Messera; NC Vice President Dr. David Robinson; SC Vice President Jim Frierson; Secretary Phil
Astwood and board member Ed Locklin. Several other members joined the meeting via Zoom.
Ray Rapp began the joint session by giving a very detailed briefing on the Western North
Carolina Rail Committee’s work. He noted that the committee had adopted a new statement
of purpose which includes the goal of improving and expanding freight rail services in the
region. This goal is important because the group considers this to be the “backbone” of
encouraging and developing any future passenger service in the region.
In addition, a part of their goal is to encourage excursion and tourist trains within and into the
area from other locations. To fulfill this objective, the committee will work with the Great
Smoky Mountain Railroad and the Craggy Mountain Line among others.
The major goal for the Western North Carolina Rail Committee, is to re-establish a passenger
rail connection from Asheville to Salisbury and ultimately, the Carolinian/Piedmont corridor.
This would perhaps start with an Amtrak Thruway Bus Service and be followed by dedicated
NCDOT Rail Division-funded passenger trains.
Ray made a point during his remarks, of stressing the key importance of the economic
development aspects of restored passenger rail service to this part of North Carolina. In line
with his point, he mentioned the industries, both past and present in the western region that
benefited from rail service and observed that a few of them still benefit from freight service
provided by the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad and a couple of other short lines. Restoring
regular passenger rail service to the region can only enhance the economic prosperity of
western North Carolina, he stated.
Finally, Ray informed those present that there is underway a North Carolina DOT rail study
which is due to be released in December 2022. It is currently being produced by a consultant
team and the Western North Carolina Rail Committee hopes to have some input into the
After Ray’s briefing, Steve Little spoke to everyone of a Rail Memorial Project to be held on the
third Friday in September of this year. Steve is leading the effort behind this project to
commemorate the relatively unknown story of the large numbers of convicts and slave laborers
who built much of the rail lines, including several tunnels, in the western North Carolina
CAPT president Martin Wheeler, then discussed how CAPT agreed with the goals of the
Western North Carolina Rail Committee and assured those present of its support of their
aims. He noted that there are numerous ways of working together to help realize the
objective of passenger rail service to western North Carolina.
Martin spoke for all CAPT members when he informed Ray and Steve that we will work closely
with them and other committee members toward what are common goals for the two groups.
During the CAPT business meeting that followed the presentation of the Western North
Carolina Rail Committee, Martin observed that there should be opportunities to secure some
of the federal infrastructure bill funding and use it for extending rail service to Asheville, as
well as to eastern North Carolina.
ENGINEERING WORK BEGINS FOR RALEIGH-RICHMOND ROUTE --
“Detailed engineering work
on the higher speed Raleigh-Richmond rail passenger route is getting underway thanks to 58
million dollars from the federal Transportation Infrastructure bill passed last year. 911 million
dollars is allocated out of the bill for rail and transit in North Carolina during the next 5 years.
The project will rebuild and upgrade the former Seaboard Air Line (S) line to 110 miles per
hour maximum operating speeds and will be 90 minutes faster than the current Amtrak
route. The line would be opened for service during the next 5 to 10 years in phases and
would include new stations in Wake Forest and Henderson, and others in North Carolina and
Virginia. NC United States Senator Thom Tillis and NC United States Representative David
Price were instrumental in securing funding.
The North Carolina portion of the line would also eventually serve commuter trains for the
Triangle linking Wake Forest, Raleigh, and Durham. A companion study on that project is
expected to be completed by 2023.”
FUTURE RAIL PASSENGER SERVICE TO GREENVILLE? --
"The possibility of rail passenger service
between Raleigh and Greenville is now under study by the North Carolina Department of
Transportation. The $250 thousand study funded by a federal grant furthers the desire of Pitt
County leaders who want rail service for the Greenville area, home of East Carolina University.
The route was pushed by CAPT in the early 1980's as part of a long-distance route linking
Norfolk and Raleigh. The idea was envisioned by CAPT's founder, and first President Bill Cobb
who was chairman of a Greenville Area Chamber of Commerce Task Force. The long- distance
route is no longer possible due to the abandonment of a bridge over the Albemarle Sound
between Plymouth and Edenton."
NORTH CAROLINA VP GREW UP AROUND TRAINS --
David Robinson, North Carolina Vice
President for the Carolinas Association for Passenger Trains (CAPT), hails from the City of
Hereford, England, approximately 16 miles east of the border with Wales. British Railways
operated steam locomotives through his town, enabling Dr. Robinson to travel on vacations
on trains of the Great Western Railroad.
“When not on the trains, I train-spotted at the Hereford Railway Station. It cost just a penny for
a platform-only ticket,” recalls the present-day Raleigh resident.
A CAPT member for more than eight years, Dr. Robinson has an Engineering Science degree
from the University of Warwick, Coventry, England. “I then flew the coop to Purdue
University, West Lafayette, Indiana, for graduate work in Transportation Engineering,” he
said. (Purdue is Indiana’s land-grant institution, best known as an engineering and ag
Improving public transit operations occupied David’s time for the next three years in three
cities (Cincinnati, OH; Hartford, CT, and Atlanta, GA) and San Juan, Puerto Rico. At a ski lodge in
the Pocono Mountains in Northeastern Pennsylvania, David’s life changed – he met a lady, who
became his wife.
A North Carolina State University (NCSU) friend alerted Dr. Robinson to a key position with
the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NC DOT). For five years the CAPT VP
served as the state’s first Public Transit Director. NC DOT subsequently asked David to
manage highway planning, project management, environmental mitigation of transportation
projects, and transportation research.
Retirement from NC DOT was followed by employment with NCSU’s Institute for Transportation
Research and Education. They asked David to work with the staff of the NC Department of
Environment and Natural Resources, which had taken over the provision of environmental
mitigation for NC DOT.
That assignment was followed by one with the staff of NC DOT’s Rail Division’s BeRailSafe
Program. Promoting group rail travel on Piedmont trains was Dr. Robinson’s final paid
railroad position; NC DOT funded his consultant position.
Three years later, David now runs a You Tube video channel – Transport Cams --
and films trains in North Carolina or anywhere he can get away to, plus arrivals and departures
at Raleigh Durham International Airport, construction progress on the Raleigh Beltline (I-440)
Widening Project, and soon the Blue Ridge Road underpass adjacent to the State Fairgrounds.
A passionate supporter of a higher level of passenger rail service in North Carolina, he wants
to see positive results in North and South Carolina in his lifetime!
To that end, David is now proudly serving North Carolina as a newly elected state
representative to the Rail Passenger Association's Council of State Representatives. COVID
restrictions and concerns has delayed his participation in the national organization.