FROM THE CAB - OCTOBER 2023
By Martin Wheeler, President, Carolinas Association for Passenger Trains,
with assistance from Don Yehle, CAPT Board Member and Editor
AMTRAK AND STATES MUST PARTNER FOR MORE PASSENGER RAIL –
President Stephen Gardner walked off a Piedmont train in Salisbury, NC to address a meeting of
the North Carolina Mayor's Coalition on October 11th. Gardner told members of the Metro
Mayor's Inter-City Passenger Rail Work Group that additional rail passenger service will not
happen unless there is a "partnership" between the states and Amtrak.
Gardner says NC has that working relationship and praised past and present efforts saying
“North Carolina is one of the best in the United States in knowledge, vision, and
performance. North Carolina is well positioned for future development and
expansion." Amtrak will support North Carolina's vision as it is "so well positioned".
Amtrak President Stephen Gardner
Amtrak "wants to create value for the United States, which has the largest rail network of any
country in the world. We should use assets to build a more connected society. There is a huge
opportunity to go south to Atlanta".
The event was also held to draw exposure and support to the plan for rail passenger service
between Salisbury and Asheville. Members of the Western North Carolina Rail Committee,
CAPT, and various other interests were also there to show support.
The Federal Railroad Administration is expected to announce selections for its Corridor ID
Program in November. The Asheville route has been submitted, along with Raleigh to
Wilmington, and a number of others. Selection would mean a grant of 500 thousand dollars to
start planning on the designated corridor(s).
POSSIBLE MIDWEST TO CAROLINAS AMTRAK ROUTE IS UNDER STUDY --
The Amtrak Long Distance Study being conducted by the Federal Railroad Administration is
taking a look at a possible new route from the Midwest to the Carolinas. The proposal
envisions a route from Cincinnati to Knoxville, and east to Asheville, N.C. From Asheville three
routes are suggested to reach the Carolinas coastal areas. One route is through Spartanburg
and Columbia to Charleston, another through Statesville, Charlotte and Hamlet ending in
Wilmington, and a route through Winston-Salem, Greensboro, and Durham ending at Raleigh.
With the Raleigh route new state-supported service between Wilmington and Raleigh would
provide connections to and from the coastal areas.
The idea was presented at the Rail Passengers Association (RPA) "Rail Nation" event in
Meridian, Mississippi, by Carolinas Association for Passenger Trains (CAPT) President Martin
Wheeler. RPA is providing assistance to FRA in the multi-year planning process.
The Amtrak Long Distance Study is designed to expand the inter-connected rail passenger
network across the United States. FRA Administrator Amit Bose says “these are early steps in
enhancing the long distance network.” Comprehensive planning begins after route selections
are determined in early 2024. FRA Inter-City Planner Frank Loetterle says the agency has
significant power over use of existing and preserved rail rights of way if routes are to be
pursued in future years.
NEW PASSENGER SERVICE TO SOUTH CENTRAL STATES -
As result of the merger of
Canadian Pacific and Kansas City Southern several new passenger rail services are coming
within the next few years. As part of the merger agreement CPKC has agreed to a new Amtrak
route between Meridian, Mississippi and Dallas, Texas. This would be accomplished through
establishing two sections of the Amtrak "Crescent" west of Meridian. One section would serve
Dallas, and the other would serve New Orleans. At RPA's Rail Nation earlier this month Amtrak
indicated this service, and a New Orleans to Baton Rouge route would be coming expeditiously.
Additionally, the New Orleans to Mobile passenger rail service is coming closer. NEW CSX
President and CEO Joe Hinrichs is showing favorable inclinations toward a softening of the
company's stand on resisting passenger rail initiatives such as the New Orleans-Mobile, and
expansions on former Pan Am rail lines in Massachusetts now owned by CSX.
Amtrak and Union Pacific are now before the Surface Transportation Board due to Amtrak's
claim of continual poor on time performance of its "Sunset" service between Los Angeles and
New Orleans handled by UP.
AMTRAK RESTORING TRAIN CARS IN PREPARATION FOR INCREASED RIDERSHIP --
Amtrak's Vice-President of the Long Distance Service Line says 63 passenger cars out of service
will be restored and returned to service by the end of Fiscal Year 2024. The majority of the cars
are Superliners and Viewliners.
Larry Chestler also indicates 29 shorter haul cars will also be restored. Those include Horizon
and Amfleet 1 cars. 8 Diners should return by the end of 2023, and 4 more expected to return
in 2024. Chestler says a "refresh" of the Superliner fleet of 391 cars is 50 percent
complete. Those cars include coaches, diners, and sleepers.
In other news, Chestler says average on time performance for Amtrak long distance trains is at
52 percent, with no train exceeding OTP of 80 percent. He says 3.9 million passengers rode long
distance trains in Fiscal Year 2023. Also, long distance revenue reached 575 million dollars, the
largest in Amtrak history.
Meanwhile, Amtrak is looking at ridership doubling by 2045 from 32 to 64 million passengers
per year. Anna Lynn Smith, Vice-President of Strategy and Planning, also indicates operations
should be net zero for emissions by 2045.
PROGRESS CONTINUES ON RESTORING TRADITIONAL DINING -
The goal of restoring
traditional dining on Amtrak Long Distance trains is continuing. Recent additions to restored
service include the Silver Meteor and the Silver Star. The Crescent and City of New Orleans may
have to wait a while due to equipment and crew services issues. A report was presented at
RPA's Rail Nation in early October. Link above will take you to the news update, and
background material on the Food and Beverage Working Group.
SALUDA GRADE DEVELOPMENTS –
Two regional meetings have been held to update
environmental coalition plans to convert 31 miles of Norfolk Southern's Saluda grade rail line
between Inman, SC, and Zirconia, NC. 15 million dollars has been approved by South Carolina
for purchase, and 16 million dollars approved in North Carolina.
Unlike the South Carolina legislation, North Carolina legislation contains provisions for study
of possible joint rail and trail uses between Tryon and Zirconia. A regional council in NC will
be created to consider all the options.
The trail coalition is expected to have more public meetings next May when significant
comprehensive planning is completed on the project. Regardless of what is eventually decided,
the entire corridor will be protected for possible future rail use under the federal Rails to Trails
law created in the early 1980's.
North Carolina legislation appears below:
SALUDA GRADE RAIL CORRIDOR
SECTION 14.5.(a) Findings and Purpose. – The General Assembly finds that the Saluda Grade
Railroad was constructed in the 1870s to link Spartanburg, South Carolina, to Asheville, North
Carolina, and holds a special place in American rail history as the steepest standard-gauge
mainline railroad in the United States, located where the line crosses the dramatic Blue Ridge
The General Assembly further finds that the 31-mile portion of the Railroad proposed for
acquisition stretches from Inman, SC, to Zirconia, NC, with 16 miles in South Carolina and 15
miles in North Carolina, and would pass through downtown Inman, Gramling, Campobello,
Landrum, Tryon, and Saluda, as well as the picturesque Piedmont countryside, the Pacolet
River valley with its plunging waterfalls, and the spectacular scenery around the Green River
and Lake Summit.
The purpose of this section is to take advantage of an unprecedented opportunity for the
citizens of North Carolina to celebrate 2023 as the Year of the Trail and enhance the reputation
of North Carolina as the Great Trails State by acquiring the Saluda Grade rail corridor for
conversion into the Saluda Grade Trail.
SECTION 14.5.(b) Definition. – For purposes of this section, the Saluda Grade rail corridor
means the portion of the Norfolk Southern W-Line railroad between milepost 26 in the
unincorporated community of Zirconia in Henderson County and the boundary between
North Carolina and South Carolina.
SECTION 14.5.(c) Funding. – Notwithstanding any other provision of law or the Committee
Report referenced in Section 43.2 of this act to the contrary, funds appropriated in this act from
the projected interest in the State Fiscal Recovery Reserve shall be increased by six million
dollars ($6,000,000) in the 2023-2024 fiscal year, and eleven million dollars ($11,000,000) in the
2024-2025 fiscal year.
These funds shall be transferred to the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources to
provide grants in each year of the biennium to Polk County Community Foundation, Inc., a
nonprofit corporation (Foundation), to be allocated in the following amounts and for the
(1) $5,000,000 in the 2023-2024 fiscal year and $11,000,000 in the 2024-2025 fiscal year for
the purchase of the Saluda Grade rail corridor in Henderson and Polk Counties and related
(2) $450,000 in the 2023-2024 fiscal year to conduct an assessment, conceptual design
and preliminary engineering of the Saluda Grade rail corridor.
(3) $550,000 in the 2023-2024 fiscal year to study the potential of a multi-purpose active
tourism rail and hiking corridor from the City of Hendersonville to either the Town of Tryon or
the Town of Saluda, and if such a multi-purpose active tourism rail and hiking corridor is
determined to be feasible, to develop a conceptual plan and preliminary engineering for its
SECTION 14.5.(d) Council Established. – The Foundation shall establish a Saluda Grade
Conservation Council to oversee the disbursement of funds provided by this section to the
Foundation as provided in this subsection:
(1) Membership. – The Council shall include two members appointed by the General
Assembly, upon recommendation of the Speaker of the House of Representatives in accordance
with G.S. 120-121, two by the General Assembly, upon recommendation of the President Pro
Tempore of the Senate in accordance with G.S. 120-121, one member of the Polk County Board
of Commissioners, elected by that body, one member of the Henderson County Board of
Commissioners, elected by that body, one member of the City of Saluda Board of
Commissioners, elected by that body, and one member of the Town of Tryon Board of
Commissioners, elected by that body. The Chair of the board of the Saluda Historic Depot and
Museum Board or the Chair's designee shall serve as an ex officio member of the Council and
shall vote only in the case of a tie.
(2) Disbursement of Funds. – The Foundation will disburse funds allocated by subdivision
(c)(1) of this section at the direction of the Council, and the Council shall cease to exist when
the funds allocated by this section have been disbursed and all reports, audits, and other
documentation required by the State Budget Act (Chapter 143C of the General Statues) have
been submitted. Funds allocated by subdivisions (c)(2) and (c)(3) of this section may be
disbursed directly by the Foundation prior to the appointment of the Council.
SECTION 14.5.(e) Memorandum of Understanding. – No later than September 1, 2023, the
Department of Natural and Cultural Resources shall enter into a Memorandum of
Understanding with the Foundation regarding the long-term ownership structure,
management, and improvement of the rail corridor. The Memorandum shall provide, at a
minimum, the following:
(1) That not later than July 1, 2027, the corridor will be conveyed to the State to be added
to the State Trail system.
(2) That the conveyance and other provisions of the Memorandum are structured to ensure
that the acquisition of the rail corridor and the conversion to an interim use as a State trail is
consistent with the requirements of federal law necessary to preserve established railroad
rights-of-way for future activation of rail service as set forth in the railbanking provisions of the
National Trails System Act Amendments of 1983.
SECTION 14.5.(f) Report. – The Foundation shall provide an interim report no later than
March 1, 2024, and a final report no later than October 1, 2025, to the Department of Natural
and Cultural Resources, the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Agriculture and Natural
and Economic Resources, and the Fiscal Research Division regarding the acquisition of and
improvements to the Saluda Grade rail corridor funded by this act. The Department shall
include a summary of its actions to promote and support the establishment of the Saluda
Grade Trail as a part of the report required by G.S. 143B-135.102.
SECTION 14.5.(g) Authorization. – Upon completion of the acquisition of the Saluda Grade rail
corridor funded by this act, the General Assembly authorizes the Department of Natural and
Cultural Resources to add the trail established on the Saluda Grade rail corridor to the State
Parks System as a State trail, as provided in G.S. 143B-135.54(b).
The Department shall support, promote, encourage, and facilitate the establishment of trail
segments and connecting trails on State parklands and on lands of other federal, State, local,
and private landowners. On segments of the trail that cross property controlled by agencies
or owners other than the Department's Division of Parks and Recreation, the laws, rules, and
policies of those agencies or owners shall govern the use of the property.
The requirement of G.S. 143B-135.54(b) that additions be accompanied by adequate
appropriations for land acquisition, development, and operations shall not apply to the
authorization set forth in this section; provided, however, that the State may receive donations
of appropriate land and may purchase other needed lands or finance improvements and
amenities for the trail with existing funds in the Clean Water Management Trust Fund, the
Parks and Recreation Trust Fund, the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, and other
available sources of funding.
CAPT OFFICIALS ATTEND PASSENGER RAIL KICK-OFF MEETING —
Martin Wheeler accompanied CAPT Board Member Tommy Thomas to the first Passenger Rail
Symposium held at the Historic Burgaw Depot in Pender County on Tuesday, October 24. This
initiative will include future meetings at towns along what is hoped to be the restored Raleigh-to-Wilmington
passenger line that last saw Atlantic Coast Line trains in 1968.
The Burgaw Depot is the oldest in North Carolina, but the tracks along the 26-mile segment
from Wallace to Castle Hayne were removed in 1986, leaving an eventually refurbished Depot
as largely a meeting, entertainment, and event venue.
Attendees were welcomed by Steve Unger and Gene Merritt, founders of Eastern Carolina Rail,
a non-profit designed to bolster support for restoration of the historic route that first moved
passengers in 1840. Wheeler offered remarks about CAPT's mission and goals, and Thomas (a
Burgaw native) described the process by which the State obtained ownership of the W2CH
corridor, once a part of the 161-mile long Wilmington & Weldon Railroad.
There followed some remarks by an NCDOT Rail Division official, and a presentation by Unger
highlighting all the potential stops between Wilmington and Raleigh.
A lively Q-and-A followed -- you can imagine the differing views from locals concerning the
return of trains (passenger and freight) to a small town that hasn't seen them in almost 40
years! But there seemed to be a strong core of support despite the concerns raised about
blocked street crossings and any changes that may have to be made to the Depot's interior to
accommodate being an actual train station again.
The next Symposium is scheduled for Wallace in a few weeks; it also has a viable refurbished
Depot and a rich rail history. Let's hope future meetings are also well-attended and successful
as they make their way north up the old W&W!
Tommy Thomas, Board of Directors
Carolinas Association for Passenger Trains
FREIGHT LINE TRACKS AVAILABLE FOR PASSENGER SERVICE? -- There may be
softening in Norfolk Southern Railroad's position on refusing to talk with Charlotte on use of its
Charlotte-Mooresville freight line for commuter/regional rail service. Recent correspondence
indicates talks may happen. The proposal has been stalled for about 15 years due to NS
resistance. Included are links from media coverage. Please note there are references in the
Channel 9 report to the line "would be light rail,” which is incorrect. Commuter or regional rail
are the more appropriate terms.
ANNUAL MEETING DATE SET – The Carolinas Association for Passenger Trains (CAPT) will
meet in Raleigh, North Carolina, on Saturday, November 18, from 2-5 p.m., at the Raleigh
Union Station, Amtrak meeting room.
Eight board posioons are open, as are five offices – president, vice president-North Carolina,
vice president-South Carolina, treasurer, and secretary. Persons interested in being elected to
any of the above positions need to contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Check your emails for more details.
NORTH CAROLINA SEAT OPEN TO VOLUNTARY ADVOCACY GROUP -- The Rail
Passengers Association (RPA) is recruiting one individual from the Tar Heel State to join Dr. David
Robinson as a member of the RPA’s Council of Representatives. Dr. Robinson, who also is the
North Carolina vice president for the Carolinas Association for Passenger Trains, encourages one
of the state’s 225 RPA members to join him on RPA’s national volunteer body.
We are now
accepting candidates wishing to be elected to the Council as State Representatives
two-year term ending February 28, 2026, the RPA says. (Click above sentence to learn more.)
The application submission deadline is 11:59 PM Eastern time on Friday, December 1, 2023.
Any Rail Passengers Association member who meets the qualifications (see Position Description
below) may apply for a State Representative seat on the Council of Representatives. Before
applying, it’s highly recommended that you review these position responsibilities and
Please note that current State Representatives must also submit a Candidate Information
Statement by the December 1 deadline in order to seek re-election.
Jim Frierson, South Carolina vice president to the Carolinas Association for Passenger Trains,
also serves on RPA’s council of representatives.
GREETINGS BILL COLE – CAPT extends greetings to one of our own members and to one of
the original NC Train Hosts, Bill Cole. Now living at Aldersgate Senior Living Center in
Charlotte, Mr. Cole would enjoy hearing from passenger rail friends via email, letters, and
cards. Name the issue – the Carolina Panthers, North Carolina Department of Transportation,
the train host program, or something more personal -- contact Bill at 3800 Shamrock Dr.,
Charlotte, NC 28215. His email is
Northbound Carolinian passengers being funneled from temporary State Fair Station (NSF) to the Hillsborough
Street crossing under supervision of State Highway Patrol.
TAX DEDUCTIBLE CONTRIBUTIONS – “CAPT's 501(c)(3) tax exempt status under the
Internal Revenue Code has been restored effective May 29, 2023. Contributions going forward
will be tax deductible. Also, it will be much easier to apply for grants to further our efforts in
addition to being more involved in social media. The recent information campaign on the
Piedmont train schedule changes indicates how effective these efforts can be in furthering our
goals,” President Martin Wheeler said.