FROM THE CAB - July 2022

By Martin Wheeler

GET ACQUAINTED WITH YOUR BOARD -- Volunteers lead the Carolinas Association for Passenger Trains. Who are these people? Phil Astwood, Bill Cole, Bob Bischoff, John Bobinyec, Tom Darling, Jim Frierson, Ed Locklin, Ralph Messera, David Robinson, Martin Wheeler, and Don Yehle are among the leaders.

All of the above people serve on the board of directors of the Carolinas Association for Passenger Trains (CAPT). Spouses and “significant others” may be the real heroes, as they sacrifice time with their loved ones who this year are attending board meetings in Greensboro, Raleigh, Myrtle Beach, Fayetteville, Marion, and Charlotte.

One board member, Jim Frierson, took time last March and spent his money to attend the spring meeting of the Rail Passengers Association (RPA) in Alexandria, Virginia. Jim is now a candidate to represent South Carolina as its sole state council representative to the RPA.

Like his fellow CAPT board members, Jim is working to improve passenger rail and increase the number of passenger trains available to the citizens of North and South Carolina.

Formerly a Certified Transit Program Administrator with the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT), the Columbia, SC, resident spent 30 years with that agency helping improve mass transit services in South Carolina. Now retired from working for an income, Jim plans to devote more time to assisting CAPT and RPA in leadership roles as a strong advocate for the objectives of both organizations.

Jim’s previous employment history includes work with the Broward County (Florida) Planning Commission from 1978 to 1984; the City of Chester (SC) as their community development director from 1984 to 1986, and the York County (SC) Planning Commission as an associate planner from 1986 to 1987. Jim joined the SCDOT in 1987 and held several position titles but remained with their Office of Mass Transit until his retirement in 2018.

While working with the SCDOT’s Office of Mass Transit, Jim gained a great deal of knowledge about the mass transit industry in general and especially transit services in the Palmetto State. He assisted metropolitan planning organizations, regional councils of government, local governments, and non-profit organizations in understanding federal regulations applicable to funding and planning for transit services. For most of his years at the Office of Mass Transit, Jim also served as the editor of a quarterly newsletter –TransitLines – for the state’s transit providers.

During his tenure with this office, Jim says that he really gained a genuine appreciation for the struggles of rural and disadvantaged residents of his state regarding a lack of transportation to access basic services and needs. He learned to realize the importance of a seamless connectivity between different modes of transportation, e.g., rail passengers being able to get to their destination once they arrive at a rail station or multi-modal center where transit service may or may not be an available option.

“What Jim brings to the passenger rail table is a firm understanding that the ‘last mile’ is a very important part of the passenger rail business,” says Martin Wheeler, president, Carolinas Association for Passenger Trains.

Jim and his wife, Patti, often take the train to visit relatives along the Eastern seaboard and have been privileged to have been passengers on Amtrak’s Silver Star, North Carolina’s Carolinian, and Piedmont and even Amtrak’s Empire Builder during a cross-country trip in 2018 to see their son graduate from grad school in Washington state. “Trains are an ideal place to read,” says Jim who particularly enjoys reading about history – world, United States, and military history.

When Jim and Patti aren’t at home, they may be traveling to see their daughter, Sarah, in Charleston or perhaps planning a train trip to visit their son, Andrew, who now lives in Nevada!

Once Jim’s schedule slows down, he might do some model railroading at home. Track, train cars, and accessories are packed away while Jim helps to build an improved 2lst Century Passenger Rail System in the Carolinas.

STATEWIDE RAIL PLAN -- South Carolina produced a 123-page Statewide Rail Plan in 2020 which states that the Department of Transportation now has an Office of Railroads within the Division of Intermodal and Freight Programs.

Preserving right-of-way for railroads, coordinating high-speed and intercity passenger rail, applying for federal funds to complete transportation studies, and submitting an annual report to the state legislature will be among the new responsibilities of the Office of Railroads.

Recipients of the annual report will be the state’s Senate Transportation Committee and the House Public Works Committee. “CAPT now has a state office to work with on our efforts to preserve and revitalize rail corridors,” says CAPT President Martin Wheeler.

CHARLOTTE LIGHT RAIL, SILVER LINE - The routing of the proposed east-west light rail line linking Matthews to Belmont and serving the new Gateway Multi-modal Transportation Center and Charlotte Douglas International Airport is now in question. An outside recommendation by the Urban Land Institute (ULI) suggests the line needs to service more of the downtown area to be more economically viable to assure federal funding.

ULI recommends that the Silver Line piggyback a section of the Blue Light instead of traveling along the northern edge of the central business district. Both light rail lines would share tracks between 12th Street and 3rd Street, and potentially as far as Carson Blvd. on the south end.

"Interlining" the two lines is possible but would cause considerable congestion along the uptown corridor. If a headway of 10 minutes is assumed during peak hours trains would be running in both directions every 5 minutes leading to crossing gates staying down almost all the time. Keeping trains on time would be critical for an efficient operation. This might not be possible due to circumstances that might cause trains entering the shared corridor to get behind schedule and "miss their window". If this occurs there could be a cascading effect throwing numerous trains off schedule.

Since the ULI recommendation would bypass the Charlotte Gateway multi-modal station, other modifications have been floated such as running the east and west segments of the Silver Line as separate lines. Silver Line - West would run between Belmont and Gateway Station. Silver Line - East would run between Matthews and Charlotte Transportation Center on the Blue Line on the east side of Uptown. This scenario would also cause the congestion issue between 12th Street and 3rd Street due to a doubling of train movements in that segment, and the associated congestion associated with reversing trains to head back eastbound after arrival. There would probably be significant conflicts with Blue Line trains attempting to run normal runs between I-485 and UNCC.

Not serving Gateway Station would eliminate connecting possibilities to Amtrak and future commuter rail trains from the light rail trains and the streetcar. Gateway Station has been envisioned as a "Grand Central Station" where all rail movements would interface with the ultimate amount of connectivity and transfer options. Not doing so would significantly tarnish the City's image.

Running the Silver Line as a continuous line is the best option for smooth operations avoiding conflicts with Blue Line operations. This thinking led to the present proposed alignment after it was deemed a tunnel through Uptown along Trade Street was too costly and problematic. The Gold Line Streetcar is already running at street level along Trade Street.

A tunnel proposal along 4th Street would probably serve as the best option to connect to Gateway Station. The tunnel westbound could continue underground at Gateway and go underneath the elevated railway corridor used by Norfolk Southern and Amtrak, and head toward the airport and Belmont. It was suggested a tunnel might cost over 2 billion dollars to build. Similar projects have occurred in other light rail cities like Seattle, Portland, and Pittsburgh. It was suggested by former Charlotte Area Transit System CEO Ron Tober when study on the line first began. But it was rejected due to fear of high costs and potential construction difficulties.

It should be noted earlier projections indicated the first segment of the Silver Line might be in service by the early 30's. But continued delay in securing funding has probably set everything back at least another ten years to the 40's.

GOLD LINE STREETCAR, UPDATE – The Charlotte City Council is continuing with planning for extending the Gold Line Streetcar service. $4.3 million in city money is now being used to study extensions on the east and west ends of the line.

The east extension would run between Sunnyside Avenue to the Eastland redevelopment area east of Sharon Amity Road along Central Avenue. New development is now underway there replacing the old Eastland Mall.

The west extension would run along Beatties Ford Road between French Street and the Rosa Parks Transit Center near I-85.

Little opposition has surfaced for the west extension, but complaints about potential slow running time along Central Avenue have been voiced with the east extension. The east extension would also involve a slow, and/or costly transition from Hawthorne Lane to Central Avenue close to the CSX Railroad tracks.