Carolinas Association for Passenger Trains


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FROM THE CAB - APRIL 2024

Martin Wheeler, President, and Don Yehle, Editor

LEGISLATION INTRODUCED IN PALMETTO STATE TO STUDY FREEWAY RIGHT OF WAY FOR POSSIBLE FUTURE RAIL PASSENGER OPERATIONS –

South Carolina Representatives Robert Williams ( District 62- Darlington ) and Marvin Pendarvis ( District 113- North Charleston ) are introducing legislation to study use of freeway right of way in the Palmetto State for possible future rail passenger operations. HR-5347 was introduced in late March.

To date there has been no deliberation in the House chamber. The South Carolina Legislature usually adjourns by late May, so it's unclear whether the bill would carry over to the next session 2025. Please note bill language and other tools to track progress of this legislation in this article.

CAPT would hope that “commuter and/or regional and inter-city passenger rail” would be the parameters of the study which would cover local and regional applications. For example "commuter trains" serving the Columbia and Charleston urban areas, but also "inter-city" trains that would run between Columbia and Charleston, or Columbia and Charlotte would be possibilities.

Suggested "tolling " for reimbursement of the right of way used seems a novel approach, but a more conventional approach of pre-determined direct compensation for its use might be more practical. CAPT supports this legislation as a progressive movement to include rail passenger services as part of a balanced transportation system to supplement road and air services in South Carolina.

South Carolina did not submit any route requests for the Federal Railroad Administration's Corridor ID program last year. North Carolina received grants for study of 7 corridors, one of which runs through a large portion of South Carolina between Charlotte and Atlanta. In the next round of ID requests in about a year CAPT feels the Columbia-Charleston, Columbia-Charlotte, and Greenville-Columbia should be strongly considered for submission by South Carolina.

SC Representative Robert Q. Williams Profile

SC Representative Marvin R. Pendarvis Profile

A BILL

     TO AMEND THE SOUTH CAROLINA CODE OF LAWS BY ADDING SECTION 57-1-100 SO AS TO PROVIDE THE DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION SHALL CONDUCT A STUDY AND UNDERTAKE A PROJECT TO ESTABLISH COMMUTER RAIL SERVICE IN THE STATE.

      Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of South Carolina:

      SECTION 1. Article 1, Chapter 1, Title 57 of the S.C. Code is amended by adding:

            Section 57-1-100. (A) The Department of Transportation shall conduct a study to determine where highway right of ways may be widened and how much it would cost through both eminent domain and regular private sale for the purpose of adding commuter rail lines adjacent to existing highways. The study shall include:
                        (1) the cost of widening existing railway, highway, and powerline right of ways; and
                        (2) projections of how long through fares could a bond sale be repaid to cover 10 percent, 17.5 percent, and 25 percent of the cost of commuter rail sections between cities exceeding sixty thousand residents, where fares would generate the most revenue.
                  (B) Once feasible routes have been established, the department shall issue a request for proposals for the architectural design and construction of rail beds, railways, and associated facilities, and rail companies to offer commuter rail service.
                  (C) The request for proposals shall include a statement that the price for the various services must be the lowest price that:
                        (1) has a minimum wage of twenty-five dollars per hour for the operators and workers or equivalent salary with a health care plan that is at least the breadth of the Silver Plan as defined by the federal Affordable Care Act;
                        (2) offsets carbon emissions to the precision of the nearest five thousand pounds of carbon emissions from all carbon commuter rail trains;
                        (3) replaces felled trees to the precision of the nearest fifth of an acre;
                        (4) recycles all number 1 and number 2 plastics, glass, and metal; and
                        (5) donates all uncovered archeological artifacts and fossils to the anthropology or geology departments of a public university with at least one thousand enrolled undergraduate students.
                  (D) The South Carolina Energy Office shall audit all offsets of any contractor for commuter rail projects prior to an award of a contract to ensure additionality.

      SECTION 2. This act takes effect upon approval by the Governor.
      SC - H5347

FEW “INTERMEDIATE MARKETS” LIKELY KILLED CAROLINAS TO MIDWEST ROUTE PROPOSAL –

Lack of strong intermediate ridership markets apparently killed the Carolinas to Midwest route proposal in the FRA's Amtrak Long Distance study. Between Charlotte and Cincinnati only Asheville and Knoxville were significant intermediate markets, pulling down total ridership over the entire length of the passenger rail route.

There was also concern over certain rail network issues such as missing track segments, and uncertainty over status of some segments. Those issues also hurt an alternate routing to Columbia and Charleston. 15 routes were selected (none in the Carolinas) , and will be presented to Congress this summer.

CAPT had begun an informational campaign aimed at getting support for the concept in western North Carolina. Information efforts will now begin to focus more on the two Carolinas U.S. congressional delegations ( a number of members who have supported rail passenger initiatives), other areas across the two states that would benefit from such a service.

CAPT will also be conferring with rail passenger interests in Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee on interest in those areas for a Midwest to Carolinas service.

Meanwhile, Frontier Airlines is rolling out non-stop air service soon between Charlotte and Cincinnati.

$665 MILLION PRICE TAG FOR CONSTRUCTION OF SALISBURY – ASHEVILLE PASSENGER SERVICE –

The Hickory Metropolitan Planning Organization sponsored a session on preparations for the Salisbury-Asheville passenger train service that might emerge from the recent Corridor ID grant awarded by the Federal Railroad Administration late last year.

The project is estimated at 665 million dollars, with annual operating costs at 5- 10 million dollars for 3 daily round trips.

Over the next three months parties along the entire corridor will try to come to consensus on where stops will be, and plan on costs for those stations. Where will the station in Asheville be? Will Hickory or Conover be chosen for a station stop? There will also be consideration of area connecting transportation services for the stations.

Phase 1 of the Corridor ID study under oversight from the NC Department of Transportation's Rail Division should be completed in the March to June 2025 timeframe and is funded by the federal Corridor ID grant of 500-thousand dollars.

By that time local funding matches for the next step of the planning process will have to be lined up. The next step will be funded by 10 percent local/state match and may take 2-3 years to complete, and would be following by the final phase of full development, environmental planning and construction which has a 20 percent local/state match.

It appears earliest date for start up might be 2032, but could take longer.

COMMUTER RAIL TO LAKE NORMAN? – The Charlotte Business Journal reported earlier this month the City of Charlotte has elevated “a 25-mile Red Line Commuter Rail” to the top of its list of transit priorities. “A regional, rapid-transit rail connection from uptown to the Lake Norman area” would be created, the newspaper said in its April 5 edition.

Norfolk-Southern Corp. has in the past refused to share its railroad tracks. “The company is now in talks with city government about whether a potential transaction is reasonable,” Associate Editor Jen Wilson reported.

NS’s potential reversal of its track-sharing position would make commuter rail to Lake Norman possible. There could be 10 stations serving five municipalities in northern Mecklenburg and southern Iredell counties, plus a future Gateway multimodal station in uptown, the Charlotte Business Journal reported.

The Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) has held three public meetings on the idea in the last two weeks, including one in Davidson on Tuesday (April 16). CAPT President Martin Wheeler was among those interviewed by WCNC/Charlotte. (Click on this link.)

“We’ve been trying to get Norfolk Southern to agree for 20 years to get this done,” Wheeler said, adding the next hurdle would be to get the funding.

CATS has scheduled a fourth public meeting in Charlotte this Saturday (April 20), at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library’s Sugar Creek library branch, 4045 N. Tryon St. The two-hour meeting begins at 10 a.m.

The public engagement process “will stretch throughout the year,” readers of the Charlotte Business Journal learned.


The NC DOT Rail Division's public meeting in late March was well attended, and most sentiment from attendees seemed to vary from mixed to supportive. The project scope was reduced from earlier versions which made area developers happy. Construction could start on the $30 million addition to the existing site by 2025. Completion and full scale operations may not happen until 2029. Refer to last month's FROM THE CAB for further details on the project.

LAND ACQUISITION KEY TO RESTORING WILMINGTON PASSENGER SERVICE -- Progress has been made on restoration of the Wilmington Lead corridor past its current end at McRae Street. After several years of delays, the tract of land that contained the old Atlantic Coast Line switching yards will be offered for sale to the State of North Carolina by the New Hanover County Board of Education.

The 41-acre tract was purchased from CSX by the New Hanover County Board Of Education in 1984 as the site for Dorothy B. Johnson Elementary (now Pre-K); however, only about 8-10 acres were used for the school and the rest remained largely untouched.

As the initiative to restore passenger service to Wilmington has gained momentum, the need for NCDOT to regain ownership of the old W&W corridor that existed on the east perimeter of the tract was obvious. Also in play is the turning radius that will allow trains to access or exit the existing Wilmington Beltline.

Surveys of the property resulted in 13.5 acres needed for future railroad considerations, with an appraised value of $1.69 million. Let's hope this transaction comes off smoothly and dovetails nicely with the completion of the still-ongoing Beltline Improvement Project.

Tommy Thomas
CAPT Board Member

As the above story says, acquiring necessary land is key to restoring Wilmington, NC, passenger service.

The following acquision map is from New Hanover County, NC. (Fed. Aid No. FR-CRS-18-004-062649. WBS Element: 47720 Project P-5740. Parcel 900. Owner: New Hanover County Board of Education.)

LOCAL PAPER UPDATES READERS ON POTENTIAL NEW WILMINGTON SERVICE – Passenger rail service from Wilmington northward hasn’t existed since 1968. The Brunswick (NC) Beacon has updated its readers on the Wilmington to Raleigh rail corridor, which has received $500,000 of funding through the Federal Amtrak Corridor ID Program. Click on this link to learn more as of March 21, 2024.

PAY ATTENTION AND SAVE YOUR LIFE -- Trespassers struck by trains are unfortunately becoming a common occurrence. Besides the needless loss of life, train/pedestrian strikes cause severe mental anguish for the train engineer striking the trespasser, the trespasser’s family and friends, and incident witnesses. In addition, the strike causes significant delays to train movement (both passenger and freight trains) and requires the commitment of public safety personnel who could otherwise be ready to respond to other incidents.

All are encouraged to join Amtrak’s “Partners for Amtrak Safety and Security” program, acronym “PASS”. This program enlists members of the community to be the eyes and ears of Amtrak and local law enforcement in maintaining a safe, secure rail system. You can register for the program and get further information by going to the website pass.amtrak.com. (Courtesy, Tom Darling, CAPT Board.)

FOUR CAROLINIANS ELECTED TO RPA COUNCIL – As a result of elections in March the Carolinas are represented on the Rail Passenger Association’s Council of Representaives by these individuals:
North Carolina –David Robinson (Raleigh) and Martin Wheeler (Charlotte).
South Carolina – Jim Frierson (Columbia)
At Large – William Gray (Charlotte)

5 Reasons Conservatives Should Support a Modern, Customer-Focused, National Passenger Train System --

It is only natural to harbor a certain amount of humility when assessing important policy issues. People knew things in the past, and who are we to presume in our modernity that we always know best.

There is a reason why train travel was so critically important in the building of a nation and many reasons why it remains important are often overlooked.

As you and I see below, the loss of an extensive passenger train network was not a free market outcome. It is time that our transportation policy be restored to a sense of rational perspective, so that we may:

1.) PROTECT NATIONAL SECURITY -- Nations hostile to US interests control an ever-growing amount of the world’s oil supply. What President Bush called our “addiction to oil” makes the US especially vulnerable to supply reductions and interruptions.

Letting fuel-efficient trains (both diesel and electric) handle a bigger portion of our traveling and shipping needs will reduce reliance on fuel-intensive and polluting cars, trucks, and planes.

Because trains can operate entirely on electricity, rail is the only transportaion technology that could operate without burning petroleum. After 9/11, trains were America’s only functioning commercial transportaion.

The interconnected national rail system provided a critically important mobility choice when the air system shut down. Security demands redundancy.

2.) IMPROVE AMERICA’S COMPETITIVE POSITION IN THE GLOBAL ECONOMY -- Continued reliance on energy-intensive road and air transportation will place the US at a growing disadvantage with other industrialized nations that are building modern, energy-efficient rail transportation.

Emphasis on road transportaion compounds the disadvantage for the US because the massive amount of land required for parking vehicles has created low-density sprawl that requires Americans to travel ever-greater distances to accomplish the tasks of everyday life and forces the use of automobiles.

Originally developed to help Americans conquer distance, the automobile perversely creates distance by insisting on more space for itself. By contrast, trains use space efficiently, promoing more compact, higher-quality development that reduces the distances people must travel.

3.) DELIVER ECONOMIC EFFICIENCY -- US railroads have made enormous strides in improving their efficiency – both in operations and in executing large-scale infrastructure programs. Their level of efficiency is extraordinary compared to 20 years ago.

Railroads know how to squeeze value out of every dollar they spend. This experise means that taxpayers will receive a high return from public/private partnerships with railroads to improve and expand passenger train service.

The Federal government, by contrast, parcels money out to states for roads without “purpose, oversight or accountability” or “goals such as keeping bridges in good repair and reducing pollution and congestion.” (Tesimony by Robert Puentes of The Brooking Institution to an October 25, 2007, House Budget Committee hearing on transportation policy.)

Eighty years after the first federal highway program, the US still applies no recognized business or accouning standard to document the performance of either the total highway system or individual system segments.

By contrast, Congress requires detailed reports from Amtrak even though it represents one of the smallest parts or the federal transportation budget.

Floridians enjoy enhanced regional transportation, including Tri-Rail in South Florida, which has served over 100 million riders in its 34 years of operation.

4.) SUPPORT FREEDOM OF CHOICE -- Americans who do not drive have no freedom to travel; 100 million Americans fall into this category. Other industrialized nations offer their citizens the freedom of choice that high-quality train service provides.

Millions use their own money to vote for trains by purchasing tickets. In America, many cities, and towns -- particularly the suburbs where a majority of Americans now live – have no transportation choice.

People living in, or trying to reach, these locations must drive – if for no reason other than to connect with the nearest point where air or rail transportation is available. Trains provide an effective, economic way to bind the country together because they are the only form of mobility that can connect all three American settlement patterns – suburbs, small towns, and large cities with equal efficiency.

The “popularity” of road and air transportation is artificial and does not reflect actual consumer choice in a free market. Rather, it represents consumer adaptation to a one-size-fits-all government policy that provides access to expensive and scarce public infrastructure at prices well below what markets would charge.

The federal government dedicates huge tax streams each year through “trust funds", while local, county, and state agencies leverage federal dollars with even greater sums. Railroad transportation has never received equivalent public funding – even in the days of land grants.

Despite billions raised each year through state, local, and federal motor-fuel taxes and the federal Airline Ticket Tax, property taxes, sales taxes, and other taxes raised from non-users subsidize about one-third of road and civil aviation costs. These costs do not include the invisible subsidies that occur when land consumed for parking, roads, and airports robs local communities of property taxes they would otherwise collect.

Railroads must maintain, and pay property taxes on, all of their facilities and Real Estate. They must also earn a financial return on their investment in infrastructure – costs not imposed on airlines or motor vehicles. To become effective and commercially popular, rail transportation must enjoy funding equity with other modes.

5.) BUILD STRONG COMMUNITIES -- Railroad stations are or can be anchors for urban centers and engines that drive urban improvements and economic development. By reducing the amount of valuable space consumed by motor-vehicle parking, trains (intercity, commuter, and transit) generate high quality, high compact urban development.

High-quality, high value property development generates larger assessed values and greater tax revenue to support city finances. Compact development offers Americans new lifestyle choices not currently available in suburban areas – choices that encourage walking, promote interpersonal contact, and reduce distances traveled and time spent traveling.

These new choices offer people ways to spend more time with families, at work, or on community activities, and less time behind the wheel stuck in traffic. Trains provide universal access, giving all people regardless of age or circumstance the freedom and independence to travel places near and far without having to rely on friends, relatives, and family members for “taxi service.”

As Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters noted in testimony to Congress, “Transportation lies at the core of the freedom we as Americans enjoy.” Public investment to create a modern, customer-focused, nationwide passenger-train system will restore the freedom of choice that the private auto promised but never fully delivered.

    CONCLUSION Public investment in trains advances many key elements of the Conservative agenda. Self-processed conservatives represent roughly 40% of voters. The only segment of the conservative movement that opposes trains is the Libertarians, who represent barely 4% but gain far more attention to their viewpoints than their numbers jusify because they have think-tanks in virtually every state and share their paid consultants.

The Interstate Highway System resulted from a political decision to invest massive amounts of taxpayer funds in the nation’s road infrastructure. The impact that decision had on the American landscape and way of life took decades to unfold.

Similarly, decisions today to invest significant taxpayer funds in America’s railroad system will deliver new choices and enormous benefits for generaions of Americans far into the future.

A changing world demands policies that are relevant to the future. The need for basic reform of federal transportation policy represents a critically important issue that those who aspire to lead this nation must address.

SOURCE:
Rail Passengers Association

WHAT WILL $30 BILLION IN RAIL GRANTS ACHIEVE, ASKS RAIL PASSENGERS ASSOCIATION –

As the Rail Passengers Association (RPA) ramps up for next year’s Congressional Budget Process, we wanted to help the public better understand how the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) rail funding is being spent, and what’s at stake in this year’s appropriation process, says the Rail Passengers Association.

There are billions being spent by Amtrak and States to upgrade, modernize, and expand the U.S. passenger rail network. While there has been a lag in distributing grant money and providing detailed reporting on what is being funded, the U.S. Department of Transportation has been hard at work standing up these new programs, and we’re now starting to see how this investment is reshaping America’s rail network.

The Federal Railroad Administration has awarded nearly $30 billion in rail grants so far, awarded 69 planning and development grants for passenger rail corridors across 44 states, and released a Fiscal Year 2024 detailed spend plan for the capital funding that flows directly to Amtrak.

With all this guaranteed IIJA funding, it’s important to understand why passenger advocates still need to support discretionary funding through the annual Congressional budget process. It’s a task that is even more critical following the 2023 effort by extreme members within the House GOP caucus to slash Amtrak’s funding by 64 percent—including a 92 percent cut to Northeast Corridor operations! Thankfully, that effort was turned back through a bipartisan effort to support Amtrak's funding. Rail Passengers is working to ensure that support continues in 2024.

As part of that effort, Rail Passengers staff put together an explanatory statement to help educate Congressional staffers and members of the public on:

  • Why operational funding matters in a world of guaranteed IIJA capital funding, and what we would lose if Congress short-changed operations;
  • How providing the authorized funding levels will allow Amtrak to speed project delivery, particularly in states where there isn’t a strong track record of developing passenger rail services; and
  • What average Americans can do to support the work being done to build a better U.S. passenger rail network.
  • Take a look, and then join our campaign to support this work through our online advocacy platform!

Register now!! – Rail Users' Network 2024 Virtual Spring Conference – Friday, May 17, 12:30 pm to 5 pm EDT, Via Zoom.

“Expanding Long Distance Rail Service: Why Amtrak service to more towns and cities is important to the entire US!”

Open to all passenger rail advocates. Rail Users’ Network members are free but registration is required. Non-members, $25, and includes full RUN membership for 2024.

Click on this link to learn more.

EFFORTS CONTINUE TO REVITALIZE HISTORIC GOLDSBORO UNION STATION – Placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977 and decommissioned since 1968, citizens, city, county, and state leaders hope to one day see passenger trains stopping in Goldsboro as they travel back and forth between Wilmington and Raleigh. A public meeting was held April 11 with officials from the NCDOT in attendance.

Meanwhile, Eastern Carolina Rail continues its meeings to educate and support the proposed Raleigh-Wilmington rail passenger route. Next meeting along the corridor is planned for May 14th in Goldsboro.

Click on this link for background and watch future issues of From the CAB for the latest news.