Carolinas Association for Passenger Trains


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Piedmont service changes in July and August.

FROM THE CAB - June 2024

Martin Wheeler, President, and Don Yehle, Editor

CHARLOTTE FILES PAPERS WITH SURFACE TRANSPORTATION BOARD TO PURCHASE NORFOLK SOUTHERN “O” LINE FOR COMMUTER RAIL SERVICE

About 30 miles of track between the NS/CSX interchange in Charlotte and downtown Mooresville would be included in the deal. Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) is updating plans for the line which should be completed in 2025.

Funding for construction and operations is dependent on a Sales Tax for Transportation (not just Transit as originally proposed) being passed by the North Carolina General Assembly, and referendum approval in Mecklenburg County. With approval the Red Line (Mooresville commuter rail), Airport Silver Line (light rail), and Ballantyne Blue Line extension (light rail) would be eligible for federal funding matches. The most recent update of the Charlotte Area Transit plan constrained to meet legislative wishes resulted in the Matthews Silver Line (light rail) being dropped due to earlier projected funding being used up for road construction.

Matthews and eastside Charlotte constituents reacted angrily to the suggestion enhanced bus service (not true Bus Rapid Transit which has dedicated rights of way like rail lines) would be a viable substitute for light rail which spurs vastly more economic development along a corridor and is more environmentally friendly. Matthews Mayor John Higdon says bus in not an option and would oppose the sales tax if light rail to Matthews is not included.

Several years ago, commuter rail between Charlotte and Monroe, with possible extension to Wingate was discussed, which would provide Matthews with a downtown stop, economic enhancement, and a much faster trip into Charlotte. CSX Transportation was not amenable to a lease or sale of its Charlotte – Monroe line at the time, so that would have to be revisited.

One would expect the cost to be in the ballpark of 1 billion dollars on the high side, much lower than the 5 billion dollars projected for the light rail line. This considering the Mooresville commuter rail line is currently tabbed at 750 million to 1 billion dollars for 25 miles. So, if light rail can’t be done then commuter rail might be a much more effective service for the entire region than buses between Charlotte and Matthews. Charlotte has indicated if the sales tax is approved it would join adjoining counties to form a regional transportation authority.

WFAE: Revised transit plan would scrap half of Silver Line, Matthews mayor says

WFAE: Matthews and eastside leaders slam light rail cuts

ARE BUSES REALLY CHEAPER THAN LIGHT RAIL? NOT IN THE LONG RUN

Buses are less expensive to start but with continuing ridership increases costs for operators and maintenance expand rapidly, with success leading to eventual failure. A good example is the busway in Ottawa that was eventually shut down and replaced with light rail.

One light rail car can haul the equivalent of 3 full loaded buses (1 rail operator vs 3 bus operators). To go further a 3-car light rail train can haul the equivalent of 9 buses (1 rail operator vs. 9 bus operators). Train lengths can be extended without the need of additional operators.

Talking money, if a one rail operator makes 60-thousand dollars a year with one 3-car train, 9 bus operators would cost 540-thousand dollars to haul the same number of passengers. If you need 20 train operators to handle a full day’s service, it costs 1.2 million dollars a year. It costs 10.8 million dollars a year for 180 bus operators to haul the same load. Labor for light rail is 9 times more cost efficient than bus under this scenario. Maintenance costs would also explode with more bus mechanics needed to maintain vastly more buses than rail vehicles.


To facilitate an expansion of the Charlotte Area Transit System from downtown Charlotte to its northern suburbs, the City of Charlotte is poised to acquire 29.04 miles of Norfolk Southern’s O-Line which runs between Charlotte and Mooresville, N.C., according to a filing with the Surface Transportation Board. The freight railroad will retain freight rights.




In other major acquisition proposals, the Virginia Passenger Rail Authority (VPRA) wants to acquire trackage from Norfolk Southern (NS) to allow for additional Virginia Railway Express commuter service into the nation’s capital. As is the case in Charlotte, NS would continue to have freight rights on the following mileposts:

  • Manassas Line between milepost 10.76 and 32.75.
  • Seminary Passage from milepost 9.25 to milepost 10.76.
  • Passenger rail operating easement from milepost 32.75 to milepost 33.6.
  • Roanoke station at milepost N257.5 and either milepost N289.86 in Christiansburg or milepost NB300.0 in Radford for a layover facility, media reports say.

Under terms of the deals, NS would re-acquire the V-Line, which VPRA acquired in 2022 in hopes of extending Amtrak service into Christiansburg. The parallel N-Line would receive emphasis, rather than the V-Line, as passenger service can be developed and launched there faster and with fewer capital improvements.

REGISTER NOW FOR JUNE 26 VIRTUAL SC STATEWIDE RAIL PLAN MEETING -- South Carolina citizens are encouraged to register immediately for a virtual public meeting on SC Statewide Rail Plan for freight and passenger rail. The link below speaks to what is at stake and how to register to be a participant.

South Carolina Statewide Rail Plan

Examples of what could be included in the plan are:

USE OF FREEWAY RIGHT OF WAY FOR RAIL PASSENGER’S SERVICE -- The South Carolina Legislature has already ended its 2024 session, and a bill introduced in the House to study use of freeway right of way for rail passenger’s services did not move out of committee. CAPT will follow this legislation when it’s brought up again in 2025 -- as is expected.

FRA CORRIDOR ID REQUESTS -- South Carolina did not submit any requests for Corridor IDs last year, and CAPT is urging SC DOT or Council of Governments to submit requests for routes feeding into Columbia to the Federal Railroad Administration Corridor ID program.

QUIET ZONES AND GRADE SEPARATIONS -- Both are key elements discussed by Midlands leaders in the attached information from a May 2022 press conference. “Midlands leaders gathered today (May 3, 2022) for a press conference focused on rail elimination and alignment. Local officials who supported the press conference included representatives from the SC Senate, SC House of Representatives, Richland County Legislative Delegation, Columbia City Council, Richland County Council, local elected officials from Cayce, West Columbia, Irmo, Eastover, Blythewood, along with other cities, SCDOT and U of SC officials, U of SC students and other community partners.

Midlands Leaders Discuss Rail Elimination and Alignment

CAPT WILL PARTICIPATE in development planning for the South Carolina Rail Plan update.



Four, new digital track side message boards are being installed at Amtrak’s Fayetteville, NC, rail station (see above). From the Cab appreciates hearing from readers about improvements to other passenger rail stations in North and South Carolina. When you hear or see passenger railroad news, contact CAPT President Martin Wheeler at mwheeler3@att.net or From the Cab editor Don Yehle at djyehle@gmail.com.


MORGANTON AND BURKE COUNTY ON BOARD FOR PROPOSED ASHEVILLE-SALISBURY AMTRAK ROUTE
Here's the latest from "Waiting for the Train” a grassroots organization formed in Western North Carolina.

"Hello all you train lovers,

“We had a great meeting on Thursday evening (June 13th) and want to say thank you to those of you who were able to join us and how much we missed you to those who were not. We were joined by Morganton Development and Design Project Manager Michael Berley, Burke County Manager Brian Epley, City Council members Butch McSwain and Chris Hawkins, Averi Ritchie of the Western Piedmont Council of Governments, Martin Wheeler of the Carolina Association for Passenger Trains, our ever faithful friends from the west, Steve Little and Ray Rapp of the WNC Rail Committee and a host of other Burke County VIPs.

“It was just as glorious as it sounds. Sen. Warren Daniel and Rep. Hugh Blackwell were not able to come but they sent glowing endorsements. We were especially thrilled to hear Sen. Daniel's estimate of a mere 5-7 years till completion.”

Yours till we ride the rails together, Barbara and Mimi"

WAITING FOR THE TRAIN: CITIZENS WORKING BRING PASSENGER TRAIN SERVICE BACK TO BURKE COUNTY

"Everything depends on local interest and local advocacy"

Website: morgantonpassengertrain.com
Facebook: facebook.com/morgantonpassengertrain
Instagram: instagram.com/morgantonpassengertrain

Below is link to WSOC-TV's Channel 9 coverage on June 18th.
Passenger rail service gains support in Morganton



SELMA, NC, INVITES CAPT TO PARTICIPATE IN CENTENNIAL RAIL DAYS -- CAPT has been invited by the town of Selma, NC, to participate in the Saturday, July 20, activities of its Centennial Celebration of Union Station (see above illustration). Selma is working with train partners, organizations, and rail enthusiasts “as we find our way back to our train town history here in Selma,” said Nikki Wall, Selma community engagement coordinator.

The event begins at 9 a.m., with a traditional farmers’ market, like what took place at the station in the 1980s. Live music, trackless train rides, activities for children, and an Operation Lifesaver Locomotive Simulator follow at 10 a.m. A time capsule ceremony concludes the day’s festivities at 2 p.m., Ms. Wall said.

While CAPT has its July meeting on July 20, consideration is being given to working up something to give CAPT some exposure like the recent Waiting for the Train event in Morganton, said President Martin Wheeler.

The Railroad Town of 7,000 people is served by two Amtrak trains -- the Palmetto and the Carolinian. It will celebrate the 49th Annual Selma Railroad Days this October.

Additionally, CAPT President will be in Selma on Friday night, July 19, for an exclusive dinner and train presentation by Eastern Carolina Rail at the Selma Civic Center. A depot tour of what some believe to be the “oldest surviving train station in North Carolina” is scheduled at 5:30 p.m., prior to the 6 p.m. dinner meeting.

In 2023, Amtrak ridership through Selma was 13,914. Originally constructed in 1924, the Selma depot served the Atlantic Coast Line (ACL) and the Southern Railway (SR). The depot building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. It underwent $3.4 millions of upgrades in 2001-2002 and an additional $2.5 millions of renovations was completed in February 2024, according to the website of The Great American Stations.




EASTERN CAROLINA RAIL MEETS IN GOLDSBORO IN EARLY JUNE
An Eastern Carolina Rail Regional Meeting was held in Goldsboro in conjunction with the Save Union Station campaign in early June. Opening remarks were delivered by John Bell, NC House Majority leader with also commitments of support conveyed by State Senator Buck Newton and Seymour Johnson Air Base. Craig Newton, Station Development Manager with NC DOT Rail Division, spoke about efforts to preserve and restore the station since 2000. John Peacock, Goldsboro Chamber of Commerce President from 1996-2003 now helping lead the Save Union Station campaign along with Jule Metz and Charles Gaylor updated news on the effort to stabilize the station with about 1.5 million dollars of needed roof repairs. Gaylor emphasized their effort was "grassroots and non-political, aimed at delivering affordable transportation to every segment of the community." Wiley Nichols, US 13th District Congressman is working to the get needed funds through a federal appropriation. Beau Mills of the North Carolina Metro Mayor's Association indicated rail passenger service is number 1 on the association's agenda. "Now is the time with the ability to draw federal funds at historic levels due to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.”

CAPT JULY BOARD MEETING SET FOR JULY 20 IN SPARTANBURG
Every other month, the CAPT board of directors meets at locations across the Carolinas, generally aligning with area railroad activities or developments concerning rail passenger service. Our target time for our meetings is 1 to 4 p.m. and seeks meeting rooms capable of handling at least 25 people. Association members, other interested persons, and board members may attend.

The July 20th meeting will be from 1- 4pm in a facility arranged by One Spartanburg Inc., the area’s hybrid Chamber/Tourism organization. Look for meeting details and agenda on our website. Info will also be sent to all CAPT members directly.

At one time there was quite a bit of interest in expanding intrastate passenger service between Spartanburg, Columbia, and Charleston. CAPT is interested in hearing about passenger rail activities wherever our meetings are hosted.

CAPT recently proposed an additional passenger train in the Federal Railroad Administration's Amtrak Long Distance Study. Unfortunately, the route was not included among 15 new routes to be developed over the next 20 -30 years. Congress is to review this plan this Summer.

Our association is also heavily involved in supporting new passenger routes through the FRA's Corridor ID program. North Carolina secured funding for 7 corridors last year and plans to apply for 5 more this year. One of the approved corridors actually runs through 2 other states (South Carolina and Georgia) in addition to North Carolina. It's the high speed route proposed between Charlotte and Atlanta.

South Carolina did not submit any requests for Corridor ID last year, and we are urging SC DOT or Council of Governments submit proposals this time. In some areas of the country cities and Chambers of Commerce have submitted requests. The program starts with a fully funded federal grant of 500,000 dollars. In later phases a local match of 10 percent, and then 20 percent would be needed if the entity wishes to continue all the way to construction and operations. Once in the program no further approval is needed for the project and would continue as long as money is provided.

RAIL LEGISLATION STALLED IN N.C. SENATE -- Legislation aimed at providing one million dollars for each of the 7 FRA Corridor ID programs being worked on by the North Carolina DOT Rail Division is currently stalled. Senate Bill 821 was introduced in early May in the North Carolina General Assembly. Phase 1 planning on all of the corridors is expected to be completed by Summer 2025. At that point a local and/or state match would be required to activate additional federal funding for each corridor. If not considered this legislative session the bill could be revisited in the next session in early 2025. Western NC interests are already working to line up additional funding for the next phase of the Asheville-Salisbury corridor study.
Senate Bill 821
GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF NORTH CAROLINA SESSION 2023

UPDATE ON LONG DISTANCE STUDY COMING -- The final long distance study meeting was in Nashville recently and will be presented to Congress this Summer.
FRA Long-Distance Service Study

NEW ATLANTA RAIL HUB PROPOSED -- A $30 millions price tag has been attached to a proposed new intercity railroad station in Atlanta, sources say. “Exclusive: Amtrak seeks $30 million to start building new Atlanta rail hub,” according to the article reproduced in the latest edition of Short Runs, the digital news periodical of the Rail Users’ Network Inc. More information about the Atlanta station is contained in the last of 23 stories in Short Runs.

MULTI-MODAL TRANSPORTATION FACILITY COMING TO CARY?
Town of Cary purchases former Pure Gold site to create transportation hub

CAPT BOARD MEMBER COMPLETES LATEST AMTRAK EXCURSION --Once again, the cross-country Amtrak experience has lived up to the anticipation and beyond! My trip to Grand Junction, CO and back (with an SUV extension to Hurricane, UT) on the California Zephyr was everything I had hoped. Great weather, few delays, excellent food, and wonderful car attendants/conductors were the order of this 16-day journey--once off the train, my trip across south-central Utah on Utah Routes 24, 12, and 9 (visiting Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, and Zion National Parks) was downright sensational!...

After a few days at the LPGA Senior Championship in Hurricane, I returned to Grand Junction to board the eastbound Zephyr at 10:15 AM on a perfect Memorial Day morning. And I have to say, of all the iconic Amtrak segments, the ensuing nine hours from Grand Junction to Denver may just be the best--it starts out with stunning red-rock desert scenery that leads into Glenwood Canyon (with great views of the I-70 viaduct completed in the 1990s). From there, it enters the headwater canyon of the Colorado River adjacent to Rocky Mountain National Park, then follows the Fraser River Canyon through Winter Park. Finally, the tracks wind ever-so-slowly down the eastern face of the Front Range into Denver! The conductor, a Denver native, shared his vast local knowledge of the route over the intercom, but not intrusively so...

With help from the Amtrak "Cardinal" and "Carolinian," I returned to Selma, NC and could only shake my head at my good fortune and all the wonderful memories from such an awesome trip! I look forward to completing my Amtrak "portfolio" with trips on the "Southwest Chief" and the "Sunset Limited", but the eastbound "CZ" will be hard to beat!...

Tommy Thomas
CAPT Board Member