Carolinas Association for Passenger Trains


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FROM THE CAB - May 2024

Martin Wheeler, President, and Don Yehle, Editor

What If NC Got an Extra Million Dollars for Each of Its Corridor Studies?
TRAIN INFRASTRUCTURE AND ACCELERATION ACT: S 821

If Senate Bill S 821 (currently in the NC Senate's Rules Committee) is passed the funding will go on top of the $500,000 per corridor already allotted thru the FRA's Corridor ID Program. No local match is required.

Legislation to increase funding for FRA Corridor ID projects on 7 corridors in North Carolina is now beginning to move through the North Carolina General Assembly with the introduction of Senate Bill 821.

The legislation would provide an additional one million dollars for each of the corridors now in the program.

Those interested in showing support should contact the Governor, State Representatives and Senators, especially all General Assembly members on Transportation Committees. Encouraging support from City Councils, County Commissions, Metropolitan Planning Organizations, Rural Planning Organizations and Chambers of Commerce would also be appropriate in building support.

The seven proposed rail corridors are: Charlotte to Washington, D.C.; Charlotte to Atlanta, GA; Charlotte to Kings Mountain; Winston Salem to Raleigh; Fayetteville to Raleigh; Wilmington to Raleigh, and Asheville to Salisbury.

Senate Bill 821

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

Rail related legislation introduced earlier this year in South Carolina will have to wait until the next legislative session beginning in January 2025. There was no movement before the Legislature adjourned earlier this month.

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

CAPT supports this legislation and will be following its progress. Members in South Carolina can use the coming months to voice support for the legislation with House members, and State Senators who would also have to support the legislation for its passage into law.

NOW I’M A CAPT MEMBER, HOW CAN I HELP?
By David Robinson, Vice President, Carolina Association for Passenger Trains

FIRST, BE KNOWLEDGEABLE about Amtrak services in either North or South Carolina, or both (i.e. trains, routes, timetables). The North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) has a handy timetable for the Carolinian and Piedmont services, but it does not include Crescent, Silver Star, Silver Meteor, or Palmetto times. You want to be able to answer train services questions, whenever asked.

SECOND, EXPLORE OUR WEBSITE (captrail.org) and get to know who the board members are, and when and where we will be meeting this year. (If you live close by, you’re invited to attend bi-monthly board meetings in person!). Suggest a future meeting place close to where you live!

THIRD, GIVE US COMMENTS on anything you see on the website -- what you like, what you don’t like, what you agree/disagree with, what you think is missing, or something you’d like to see CAPT get involved in. We’re only human, so we may miss something obvious.

FOURTH, AS BEST YOU CAN keep up with local and state news that is related to passenger rail services in your area and share it with one of the officers. It might make an interesting newsletter article.

FIFTH, SUPPORT AMTRAK SERVICES in your state for a same-day round trip (easy in NC with Carolinian and Piedmont service but limited to Palmetto service in SC) or a longer trip from your home base (in either state) to somewhere out of state.

SIXTH, TALK TO YOUR FRIENDS AND FAMILY (where you went, what you did, how much time you spent there, etc.) and encourage them to do the same.

SEVENTH, IF YOU ARE A MEMBER OF A CIVIC CLUB, ask the program chairman if the membership might be interested in a lunch or dinner talk from a CAPT member. If you are not sure you can do it, ask the officers if one of them can give the talk. CAPT is always looking for new members, and this just might be the way to get others involved.

CAPT’S board of directors (pictured above meeting in Selma, NC,) encourages members to participate in all our activities, help us determine our priorities, and hopefully achieve our goals.

CAPT BOARD MEETS IN AMTRAK STATION WAITING ROOM IN SELMA, NORTH CAROLINA

On Saturday, May 18th, the Carolinas Association for Passenger Trains (CAPT) held its May 2024 Board of Directors meeting in the Selma, NC, Amtrak Station. Nine members were present, four of whom arrived by Amtrak's Carolinian train.

Items discussed included efforts in both states represented by the organization - North Carolina and South Carolina - to promote the use of the currently available passenger train services, and to provide input to the respective state transportation departments in evaluating proposed new services - in particular in North Carolina, Raleigh to Wilmington (via Selma) and Salisbury to Asheville being the most popular.

As is the case with most of CAPT’s bi-monthly board meetings, participants travel to and from the meetings via passenger trains. Pictured above is Amtrak’s Carolinian arriving in Selma, NC, for the organization’s May 18 board meeting. The Carolinian connects Charlotte with New York City. Photos and story by David Robinson, NC Vice President, Carolinas Association for Passenger Trains.

PAID CAPT MEMBERSHIP SOARS TO 63

A year ago, January, there were 38 members of the Carolinas Association for Passenger Trains (CAPT). Treasurer Ralph Messera of Matthews, NC, was watching his mailbox for $25, $15, and $100 checks, to support the organization’s efforts to “reverse negative passenger rail trends, including Amtrak’s failure to fully restore services and crews, leading to service suspensions (following Covid).”

Fast forward to December 2023. U.S. Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina announced $3.5 million in federal funds to study new rail routes or improved rail routes in his state. Seven NC rail corridors like Asheville to Salisbury, Fayetteville to Raleigh, and Wilmington to Raleigh were awarded $500,000 each to develop a scope, schedule, and cost estimate for preparing, completing, or documenting its service development plan.

Sixty individuals from the Tar Heel State, 15 people from South Carolina, and 12 others from around the nation have joined CAPT to advocate for these potential rail corridors that in Senator Tillis’ words “could be transformational in how North Carolinians travel.”

Says CAPT President Martin Wheeler: “We are grateful for the work of Senator Tillis and others in making these investments, and equally pleased our citizens are speaking out in support of more trains for more people.”

NC RAILROAD COMPANY EXECUTIVE NAMED TO STB RAIL ADVISORY COMMITTEE

Carl Warren, president, and CEO of the North Carolina Railroad Co. of Raleigh has been appointed to a three-year term of the 21-member Passenger Rail Advisory Committee (PRAC) of the Surface Transportation Board (STB). PRAC will advise the Surface Transportation Board on issues affecting passenger rail service.

CAPT BOARD MEMBER TAKES THE RAILS TO COLORADO

CAPT Board Member Tommy Thomas is riding Amtrak’s California Zephyr to and from Grand Junction, CO, this month to help officiate the LPGA Senior Championship at Copper Rock Country Club in Hurricane, UT.

In Thomas' words: “It sure is great when two passions can be experienced at the same time! Last August, it was my pleasure to take Amtrak’s Empire Builder round trip from Chicago to Portland, OR (with help getting from NC to Chicago via two other trains -- the Cardinal and the Carolinian.)

That trip was to officiate the U.S. Senior Women’s Open. In 2024, that tournament will be held in Pittsburgh, PA, so I’ll be driving to that event; but as the golfing gods would have it ...

The Senior LPGA Championship has moved from its former venue in southern Indiana to a new home just outside of St. George, UT, and a stone’s throw from Zion National Park! Copper Rock Golf Club, located in Hurricane, UT (the irony of that name certainly is not lost on this NC native) will host the Seniors the week after the Copper Rock Championship, an Epson (developmental LPGA) Tour event.

So, how to reach such a far-flung destination mostly by rail? Well, after stints on the Carolinian and Cardinal to Chicago, I’ll be taking Amtrak’s California Zephyr to Grand Junction, CO, which will leave me about a day’s drive from southwestern Utah. But what a drive it will be across a hundred miles or so of I-70, then a combination of Utah routes 24 and 12 through what is certainly one of the most starkly beautiful areas in the lower 48 states!

It'll be hard to leave, but after the tournament, I’ll retrace my steps to Grand Junction and board the eastbound Zephyr back to Chicago and then back to NC. Here’s hoping my good luck from last year concerning connections, accommodations, and all circumstances having to do with cross-country travel continues on this two-and-a-half week odyssey!

Tommy Thomas
CAPT Board Member

SC BOARD MEMBER TAKES THE RAILS TO MIAMI

Amtrak’s Silver Star was a major part of a two-day trip in April for Charles D. Gossett of Columbia, SC. Gossett filed this detailed trip report that took him from Columbia to Miami, FL, and back on April 8-9.

Monday, April 8, 2024
1:14 a.m. -- I arrived at Amtrak’s Columbia (SC) Station (Station Code CLB) minus the correct phone charger. A nice station attendant loaned me hers. In other good news, Amtrak just notified me that on the return trip from West Palm Beach (Station Code WPB) to Columbia, I’ve been upgraded to a roomette -- my first sleeper experience.

In Columbia, an attendant provided a great explanation of the boarding process, baggage handling procedures, seat assignments, smoke breaks, etc.

Now aboard the Silver Star, I noticed Red and White stickers on window frames. Under the stickers, hidden behind our coach seats, are electrical outlets. These stickers are a well thought out idea to help passengers find outlets.

Surprisingly, Amtrak Police were on board the train. It’s normal to find railroad police in large train stations like Washington D.C. Union Station, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen officers on either the Silver Star or the Silver Meteor.

7:15 a.m.-- The Silver Star was fueled up prior to arriving in Jacksonville (Station Code JAX). While stopped in this populous northeastern Florida city, a conductor walked through our train car offering dining car service to coach passengers. Dining service for coach passengers was started two months ago. How pleasant to see sleeping car and coach passengers dining together!

7:31 a.m.-- Amtrak’s Auto Train, which connects Lorton, Virginia, with Sanford, FL (Station Codes LOR and SFA, respectively), just passed us. Auto Train allows individuals and families to ship their cars by rail and avoid an 855- mile drive between the two cities.

8:00 a.m.-- My ticket was rescanned. A train crew change occurred, which may account for the ticket rescanning which I’ve never before seen happen.

8:40 a.m.--We’re arriving soon at Palatka, FL (Station Code PAK). I’ve noticed the northbound Silver Star is frequently delayed between Jacksonville and Palatka.

My train journey has taken me 95 miles from Columbia, SC, to Savannah, GA (Station Code SAV), while bypassing Denmark, SC (Station Code DNK). Jacksonville is another 107 miles, with Palatka 58 more miles into Florida.

8:51 a.m.- Palatka is a very attractive, historic station, opened 116 years ago in May 1908. While serving Amtrak’s Silver Star, it also houses the Palatka Railroad Preservation Society and the David Browning Railroad Museum, Google says.


SunRail is expanding its operations in Florida.

9:52 a.m.- I’ve arrived in DeLand, FL (Station Code DLD). A SunRail station is under construction here as part of the railroad’s Phase 2 Northern Expansion. The new station is expected to be open as early as this summer. SunRail has at least 16 other stations, serving Volusia, Seminole, Orange, and Osceola Counties.

Our next stop was a lovely, downtown Amtrak Station in Winter Park (Station Code WPK). SunRail and Amtrak share this “picturesque” station, which is an easy walk to retail shopping, food services, and residential life. (In Charles’ hometown of Columbia, the rail station is a “shack.” The Winter Park station agent jokingly said, “The town of Winter Park doesn’t allow shacks inside the city limits.”)

12:06 p.m. -- SunRail South’s equipment arrived in “push” mode. SunRail is a commuter rail service, which operates Monday through Friday. Its app is pretty straightforward and intuitive.

12:38 p.m. -- From nearby Sand Lake Rd. station, I took a connecting LYNX “bus” to Orlando International Airport. Route 42 was one of three available buses.

This was the first bus to arrive and proved to be the longest and most circuitous with the most intermediate stops.

1:43 p.m. -- LYNX arrived at Orlando International Airport’s Terminal A. An Automatic People Mover carries passengers to Brightline Trains in Terminal C. Wayfinding signage was adequate and comforting as I never felt lost over the 1.5 mile trip between terminals.

2:05 p.m. -- Upon arrival at Brightline’s Orlando Station, I purchased a ticket to the premium lounge. Brightline offers two ticket types, Select and Premium, with the Premium travel ticket entitling one to Premium lounge access. Food offerings were adequate, not impressive, but provided for a complete meal. A self-service beer bar also came with the ticket, but as a non-drinker, it negated the cost of the premium ticket.

2:49 p.m. -- Brightline is leaving the station for Miami. How satisfying to pass speeding traffic on the Beach Parkway. Brightline’s free lunch was adequate, but nothing to get overly ecstatic about.

6:20 p.m.-- Arrived Miami Central Station. It’s quite nice, although it was disappointing to see a closed food court. Trains on the nearby Tri-Rail platform were visible, but I couldn’t find an interior passageway to them. Once outside the station, there was easy access to a third train system -- Metrorail.

6:36 p.m. - A Metrorail Green Line train took me to Earlington Station, where the orange and green lines meet. After transferring to an Orange Line train, I quickly found myself at Miami International Airport and my hotel. Amtrak Guest Rewards’ points covered the hotel lodging expense, which was another plus.

Overall, Metrorail Stations and trains are clean, non-odorous, provide passengers with helpful announcements, and excellent wayfinding. I was particularly impressed how the northbound green line stayed in station until the southbound arrived, making it easy to do a cross platform transfer.

Miami Airport’s Intermodal station is also impressive. It’s sad to see unused Amtrak platforms and offices, which makes me shake my head.

Tuesday, April 9, 2024
9:24 a.m. -- A Miami ticket agent was quite helpful and promptly provided a correct ticket at the proper fare for my Tri-Rail train ride to West Palm Beach (Station Code -- WPB).

11:13 a.m. -- Just alighted in WPB. It’s an okay Amtrak commuter station. A plethora of bus connections are available. A curious little window service restaurant serves fairly decent food in the station.

1:10 p.m. - Amtrak’s Silver Star is here to sprint me home. Looking forward to the free meals and roomette as we travel 590 miles home to Columbia, with 347 of the miles traversing me through the Sunshine State. I sure liked my first experience in the roomette -- and hope to have one again soon.

Charles D. Gossett
Columbia, SC

NEW BOOK PROMOTES TRAIN TRAVEL TO SOUTH CAROLINA RESIDENTS, VISITORS

Now available through Amazon KDP (Kindle) and free to anyone who has Amazon Prime, is a book designed to kickstart CAPT’s efforts to promote train travel for residents of South Carolina and visitors to the Palmetto State.

Writes Dr. David Robinson, the book’s author:

"The purpose of this book is to promote train travel opportunities for residents of South Carolina: Within their state, convenient destinations outside of their state, and to make South Carolina a rail destination for visitors.

“Four Amtrak trains serve eleven cities in South Carolina. All four trains end their northbound trips in New York City by three different routes going through North Carolina, Virginia, District of Columbia, Maryland, Delaware, and New Jersey.

“Southbound, one route (New York to New Orleans) passes through Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi, and terminates in Louisiana; another (New York to Savannah) terminates a few miles over the SC/GA state line in Savannah; the other two are strictly New York to Miami, although one also serves Tampa on the Florida Gulf Coast.

“In addition to direct (that is, no change of trains) trips, suggestions are made as to train travel to nearby large airports which often have lower fares than local airports, and, for visitors from overseas arriving at Atlantic Coast international airports, how to get to train stations that enable travel to South Carolina by rail."

Here's the link for South Carolina By Train: For Residents and Visitors:
SOUTH CAROLINA BY TRAIN: FOR RESIDENTS AND VISITORS

Dr. Robinson is NC - vice president, Carolinas Association for Passenger Trains and NC Council Representative to the Rail Passengers Association. He makes his home in Raleigh.

VETERAN CAROLINAS RAIL PROFESSIONAL TABBED FOR ASHEVILLE POSITION

“Paul Ballard, just back from an interim stint in South California with San Diego’s mass transit agency is taking a position in Western North Carolina. I corresponded with Paul, and he indicated he would enjoy his interim post in Asheville. Asheville will be involved in determining a station site for the proposed Asheville-Salisbury rail passenger service now in the FRA Corridor ID process. Paul is a member of the Western North Carolina Rail Committee, and Carolinas Association for Passenger Trains.”

-Martin Wheeler

Transition in Asheville’s Transportation Department

PATIENCE PAYS OFF FOR PASSENGER RAIL ADVOCATES IN THE MIDWEST


New, Amtrak state-sponsored service begins in the Twin Cities (Courtesy of the Rail Passengers Association.)

The Carolinas Association for Passenger Trains congratulates all involved in the launching of a second daily Amtrak service connecting the Twin Cities and Chicago, via Milwaukee. Amtrak’s new state-sponsored Borealis trains will originate from St. Paul at midday and from Chicago in the late morning, starting May 21.

The trains will make the current Empire Builder stops between St. Paul and Milwaukee and Hiawatha stops between Milwaukee and Chicago. The new service is sponsored by the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois.

“Passenger trains mean trips that are taken off of highways and out of the sky, saving lives, limiting pollution, and opening up new possibilities. These new trains also mean new trips that would not have otherwise taken place at all, producing direct returns for the cities they service,” said Jim Mathews, president and CEO, Rail Passengers Association.

“Teamwork exhibited by individuals in the Midwest over many years has brought about a nice reward — an improved passenger train system for the citizens of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois. I hope something similar occurs in our part of the country,” added Martin Wheeler, president, Carolinas Association for Passenger Trains.

In North Carolina alone, there are seven new passenger rail routes under exploration through the corridor identification program. “This is good for the Southeast, and will also benefit our neighboring states of Florida, Georgia, and Virginia,” Wheeler said.

Introducing Amtrak Borealis trains with Expanded Service between St. Paul and Chicago via Milwaukee

“WILL HIGH-SPEED RAIL IN TEXAS ADVANCE WITH AMTRAK INVOLVEMENT,” WRITES TEXAS PAPER
The Houston Chronicle published the following article about the possibilities of a Houston to Dallas high speed train. Click on the link below for more information about the controversy over connecting the two cities with a 90-minute train.

Will high-speed rail in Texas advance with Amtrak involved?

CHICAGO SOUTH SHORE RAILROAD COMPLETES DOUBLE-TRACK PROJECT IN NORTHWEST INDIANA
Seven more trains in and out of Chicago. Reduced travel times. 18 miles of double-track over a 26 mile rail corridor. 20 fewer grade crossings in one city alone. A rebuilt commuter rail station. These are some of the benefits realized in Chicagoland-Northwest Indiana following the completion of a $650 million commuter rail project, which finished $50 million under budget. See story below.

South Shore Line celebrates completion of Double Track project