Carolinas Association for Passenger Trains


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FROM THE CAB - MARCH 2024

By Martin Wheeler, President, Carolinas Association for Passenger Trains with assistance from Don Yehle, CAPT Board Member and Editor

PASSENGER RAIL ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT STUDY EYED FOR WESTERN NORTH CAROLINA AFTER RELEASE OF STATEWIDE REPORT – A new study conducted by the NC DOT Rail Division details numerous benefits to the State provided by rail freight and passenger services. Here are some excerpts from the report in regard to rail passenger service.

" Passenger rail is an important mode of transportation for North Carolina travelers. It provides the state with economic benefits, including supporting jobs, enabling commercial and business activity, and increasing tax revenues. Passenger rail also provides North Carolinians with the benefits of expanded mobility, enhanced community livability, and improved public health benefits (such as increased physical activity and reduction of single vehicle emissions). Additionally, diverting passengers from highways to rail reduces wear on roadway infrastructure, lowers carbon and particulate emissions and creates a safer, less congested road network.

NC By Train’s Piedmont and Carolinian services provide 5 roundtrips (10 passenger trains) per day between Charlotte and Raleigh, with the Carolinian continuing once per day to New York City. NC By Train transports more than half a million total passengers annually, with over 450,000 starting and/or ending their trip in the state. Amtrak operates four additional long-distance routes (Crescent, Palmetto, Silver Meteor and Silver Star) that connect North Carolina to points across the Atlantic seaboard and the Gulf Coast. The reach of North Carolina’s passenger trains is extended by Amtrak Thruway bus routes connecting eight eastern North Carolina counties with the rail network. Altogether, over 970,000 passengers per year board or alight at the 16 passenger rail stations in North Carolina."

To summarize the passenger impact:
Daily Passenger Trains (9 Round Trips) 970,000+ Passenger Boardings and Alightings
520,000+ NC By Train Passengers Annually
175,000+ Amtrak Long Distance Passengers Annually
90+ Million NC By Train Passenger Miles Annually

The report was discussed at the Western NC Rail Committee meeting earlier this month. Interest was expressed in producing a telescoped version of the study focusing on western North Carolina to aid in support for the proposed Asheville- Salisbury service.

The Executive Summary and Full Report follows....



Rail - Economic Benefits of N.C. Rail Report

THE TWO CAROLINAS LEFT WAITING AT THE STATION IN FEDERAL RAILROAD ADMINISTRATION'S AMTRAK LONG DISTANCE STUDY – The Federal Railroad Administration unveiled its latest update on study of restoring long distance rail passenger routes dropped after, and before Amtrak came on the scene in 1971. 15 suggested routes were included in the latest update, many filling the passenger void in most regions of the country. Regrettably, the report leaves the Midwest to Carolinas east-west market out in the cold.

CAPT suggested FRA look at a service that would link Cincinnati to Asheville, with potential route(s) spreading east to Charleston, SC via Columbia; or Wilmington, NC via Charlotte; and Raleigh via Winston-Salem in October of last year. It is still unclear as to whether the pledge from FRA to look at it was an empty promise, or what the reasoning for exclusion was if it was studied? CAPT is continuing to press for answers.

Of all the parameters used to qualify routes it appears the 750-miles minimum length of a proposed route may have been the only non-qualifying factor. Although, it should be noted FRA apparently extended several other included routes to meet the mileage criteria. The CAPT proposal could have been extended to Cleveland over the 3-C corridor to resolve this potential issue.

Routes were also to begin and terminate at cities now served by Amtrak. Only Wilmington might be a problem in the CAPT proposal, although it potentially will be an Amtrak stop within 5-10 years, and the NC route could be terminated at Charlotte to solve this issue. Future Charlotte-Wilmington in state service could fill the gap.

The CAPT proposal envisioned using NS or CSX from Cincinnati to Knoxville, NS from Knoxville to Asheville (note in the study report a long distance route was included that would cover part of the route heading into Virginia's Roanoke Valley).

Two alternatives were suggested to FRA east of Asheville. One option would use the historic route of the Carolina Special from Asheville to Charleston through South Carolina. This route would also require activation of rail service between the Flat Rock and Inman now going through a potential Rails to Trails conversion. The second option would utilize NS from Asheville to Statesville, where the train could actually be split for Raleigh via Winston-Salem or Charlotte via a restored track segment and NS to Charlotte. The restored track segment between Mooresville and Statesville could also be part of future regional rail network. The City of Charlotte and Norfolk Southern are discussing use of its Mooresville to Charlotte line through lease or purchase. The North Carolina Department of Transportation's Rail Division is planning to include the longer Charlotte to Winston-Salem corridor in a future Corridor ID application grant with FRA.

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.

FRA Long-Distance Service Study

BRIGHTLINE, SILVER STAR, AND SUNRAIL ENJOYED BY BOARD MEMBERS -- Recently, CAPT Board Member Ed Locklin and CAPT President Martin Wheeler spent time in Florida riding Brightline and Sunrail. Of course, to get there and back we rode Amtrak’s Silver Star. We were there one week before the start of coach passengers being able to return to the dining car. We actually asked if we could go to the diner on a trip back from Tampa to Winter Park but were told no. Fortunately, we were able to enjoy the diner between Raleigh and Winter Park due to our sleeping car tickets.

The high point of the trip was riding on Brightline from Orlando to Miami. Excellent, comfortable, and convenient service! We experienced Smart class, and Premium class service on individual trips. We clocked the train at 126 mph between Orlando and Cocoa, and 110 mph between Cocoa and West Palm Beach, and 79 mph top speed between West Palm Beach and Miami. The train takes 3 hours and 30 minutes to traverse the entire route.

The Orlando Brightline station located at the Orlando Airport, Concourse C is fabulous, and will within 5 years also be served by Sunrail regional rail trains and extension of Brightline service between Orlando and Tampa. It was reported Stuart would get a Brightline station in the short term while we were there.

Sunrail continues to provide regional rail service between DeBary and Poinciana on weekdays between 5 am and Midnight. Extension northward to DeLand should be in operation this Summer. Trains still don't run on weekends, but hope is Saturday's might be added at some point.

For vintage streetcar enthusiasts the TECO Streetcar in Tampa is a must. The service is free linking the Ybor City Historic District with Channel district south of Union Station. A short 4 blocks walk from Union Station to the Publix Streetcar station was convenient, and also showed signs of a former CSX city freight yard removed for a park and walking trail south of Union Station.

While in Tampa we noticed a large plot of land west of Union Station that might serve Brightline well as station location, or a number of open track slots still at Union Station if Brightline wanted a joint terminal with Amtrak.

If you are in the area during Spring Training season for Major League Baseball, Yankees camp is in Tampa, and Tigers camp in Lakeland. We took in a game at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland in between "training".

We found Winter Park an excellent spot to stage our daily trips. A wonderful small town laid back atmosphere, with plenty of good restaurants and lots of train watching available with Amtrak and Sunrail, and an occasional CSX local freight train. --
Martin Wheeler, President, Carolinas Association of Passenger Trains

RESTORATION OF COACH DINING CONTINUES – Traditional dining was restored earlier this month to a “limited number of customers” on Amtrak’s New York-Miami trains, according to Trains Magazine and other media outlets. The Rail Passengers Association (RPA) has been working closely with Amtrak management and others as part of the congressionally mandated Food & Beverage Working Group aimed at improving on-board food and beverage experiences in all classes of service on all types of trains.

In a public statement made last year, the RPA said: Silver Services Latest to Get Traditional Dining

NORTH CAROLINA BOASTS TWO OF AMTRAK’S BUSIEST STATIONS –Charlotte and Raleigh are two of the five busiest stations for Amtrak in the Southeast! Amtrak reports the other three are Staples Mill Road Station in Richmond, VA; Alexandria, VA, and Norfolk, VA.

In 2023, passenger totals were 281,220 (Charlotte) and 231,229 (Raleigh). Click on the link below to learn more about how Carolinians take advantage of passenger rail service.

Virginia and North Carolina are Home to the Busiest Amtrak Stations in the Southeast

RAIL MAINTENANCE SCALEBACK -- The Charlotte Business Journal is telling its readers the NC Rail Division is to scale back project in South End.

“The planned rail maintenance yard expansion in South End that spurred nearby residents and businesses to seek its relocation last summer will be significantly reduced in scope, according to an update issued by the N.C. Department of Transportation’s rail division.

The rail division sent an email to Charlotte stakeholders in advance of a public meeting scheduled March 25 at Pritchard at South End Church.

According to the update, “the proposed facility will be located east of and not across Summit Ave.” And the rail division said it will no longer pursue additional property — 18.9 acres were targeted in the earlier plans — beyond some easements “to allow for construction of certain aspects of the project, such as retaining walls, fencing, drainage, utilities, and vegetative buffers, but these impacts are not expected to result in any business or residential locations.”

CAPT is concerned about possible lack of a south end entry and exit to the Norfolk Southern mainline, which would be needed if the Carolinian is turned at a new wye near the airport every evening. It would more importantly serve as an alternative entry or exit into the facility if the existing north end connection were compromised for any reason. There is also concern about reducing the scope of the project which would preclude necessary expansion of services in the years to come.

A response from the consultant team handling the project for NC DOT indicated the proposal does not include a south end connection to Norfolk Southern, stating the design may not be “ideal”, but it is workable. It mentions DOT is working with Amtrak to assure that addition of a second direct connection to NS would not be precluded in the future. It pledges that the new compact design will meet needs for the present and foreseeable future and mentions new Amtrak Airo equipment coming within next 5 years can be utilized without being wyed.

2028 COMPLETION OF CHARLOTTE GATEWAY STATION IN DOUBT – With its master plan unfinished, a 2028 completion of the Charlotte Gateway Station will be challenging. Left click on the link below for the full story:

Uptown transportation hub | Where do things stand with the Charlotte Gateway Station?

THE HIGH SPEED RAIL ALLIANCE CHECKS IN ON “ROADS FIRST” APPROACH FOR CHARLOTTE – The Chicago-based association warns of dire consequences for taking such an approach followed by Atlanta for decades. Read the article through the link below:

Atlanta is a case study in transportation dysfunction. Will Charlotte follow its lead—or do better?

NC BY TRAIN RIDERSHIP UP 38% IN 2023 VS. 2009 -- Passenger Ridership was 522,550 (2022), increasing to 641, 000 last year (2023). An additional frequency positively contributed to the overall growth from 2022 to 2023, said a spokesperson for the Rail and Mobility Division of the North Carolina Department of Transportation.

NC by Train features six passenger trains (Carolinian, Crescent, Palmetto, Piedmont, Silver Meteor, Silver Star); 16 railroad stations; 2 Amtrak Thru-Way Buses, and 16 connecting transit systems.

PIEDMONT, CAROLINIAN NUMBERS ALSO SOARING -- CAPT wants passenger railroad advocates to know Fiscal Year 2023 statistics compared to Fiscal Year 2009 for both the Piedmont and the Carolinian.

PIEDMONT – 289,965 (FY 2023) vs. 68,427 (FY 2009)
CAROLINIAN – 315,798 (FY 2023) vs. 277,740 (FY 2009)

For Carolinian passengers, totals reflect at least one trip endpoint on the state-supported portion of the route (Charlotte to Washington, DC).

Piedmont ridership statistics for the 19-year period from 2005 to 2023 are below:

YearRiders
2023313,264
2022236,807
2021138,589
202060,289
2019220,787
2018178,897
2017151,250
2016151,094
2015157,407
2014169,932
2013170,280
2012167,840
2011142,619
2010121,089
200965,989
200870,937
200753,379
200651,928
200548,138

SAFETY TOP PRIORITY FOR BOTH PASSENGER AND FREIGHT RAILROADS – On Tuesday, March 5th , a tractor-trailer was stuck on railroad tracks in North Carolina, resulting in the collision shown in the link below:

Collision

Fortunately, there were no injuries and the incident did not affect any passenger movements.

OPERATION LIFESAVER CITES 10 TRACK SAFETY BASICS – As part of its mission to reduce deaths and injuries at highway-rail grade crossings and around tracks and trains, Operation Lifesaver, Inc. offers these rail safety tips for drivers, pedestrians, and an array of audiences.

Track Safety Basics

  • Freight trains don't travel at fixed times. Schedules for passenger trains often change. Always expect a train.
  • All train tracks are private property. Never walk on tracks; it's illegal trespass and highly dangerous.
  • It takes the average freight train traveling 55 mph more than a mile—the length of 18 football fields—to stop. Trains cannot stop quickly.
  • The average locomotive weighs about 400,000 pounds or 200 tons; a train can weigh up to 6,000 tons. This makes the weight ratio of a car to a train proportional to that of a soda can to a car. We all know what happens to a soda can hit by a car.
  • Trains have the right of way 100% of the time over pedestrians and vehicles, including police and emergency vehicles.
  • Trains overhang tracks. Stay 15 feet back from the tracks. Always assume railroad tracks are in use, even if there are weeds or the track looks unused.
  • Trains can move on any track, in either direction at any time. Sometimes its cars are pushed by locomotives instead of being pulled, which is especially true in commuter and light rail passenger service.
  • Trains are quieter and moving faster than you think – only trains belong on the tracks. Today's trains are quieter than ever, producing no telltale "clackety-clack."
  • Remember to cross train tracks ONLY at designated pedestrian or roadway crossings and obey warning signs and signals posted there.
  • Stay alert around railroad tracks. Refrain from texting, using headphones or other distractions that would prevent you from hearing an approaching train; never mix rails and recreation.

FIVE CAPT MEMBERS ATTEND NC TRAIN HOST ASSOCIATION MEETING – An update on BeRailSafe.org, the N.C. Department of Transportation’s statewide safety initiative aimed at educating both children and adults about the dangers on and around railroad tracks, was presented to 75 NC Train Host Association members at the organization’s 2024 Annual Meeting on March 2 at the First United Methodist Church, two blocks from the Cary Amtrak Station.

Many of the participants arrived at the station on the northbound Carolinian 80 and departed on Piedmont 77.

Ralph Messera, John Bobinyec, Thomas Hefner, Thomas Darling, and David Robinson were CAPT members in attendance. Roger Smock, who made the BeRailSafe.org presentation, was one of four NCDOT Rail Division employees in Cary along with Matthew Simmons, Alison Boswell, and Jason Myers.

Seven Corridor ID projects recently funded by the Federal Railroad Administration were among the subjects discussed by Jason Myers during the morning session. Grade separation construction projects between Cary, Raleigh, and Wake Forest that are scheduled to begin on the S-Line this year was another key topic.

75 Train Hosts gathered March 2 in Cary, NC, for their annual meeting.

David Robinson, CAPT’s vice president for North Carolina, provided attendees with an overview of CAPT, while encouraging Train Hosts to view our website and consider becoming a member of our independent organization of citizens advocating for passenger trains. Receiving a Five-Year longevity award as a train host was CAPT’s Bobinyec.

JOIN US IN GREENSBORO, N.C., THIS SATURDAY -- Interested guests, CAPT officers, directors, and members are gathering this Saturday, March 16, in Greensboro for a 3-hour board meeting at the north end of the Amtrak station (Gaylon Transportation Center) on Washington St. The meeting begins at 2 p.m.; parking is available on the street and is free on Saturday.

Those interested may get lunch before the meeting at the following location starting at noon or after the meeting beginning at 5 p.m. Natty Greene’s, 345 S. Elm St., Greensboro, NC, (336) 274-1373

Traveling to the meeting by train is suggested on Piedmont #73 from Raleigh and Piedmont #72 from Charlotte. Returning home is suggested on Piedmont #76 to Raleigh, and Carolinian #79 to Charlotte.

Agenda items for the March 16 meeting include the status of the search for a new CAPT secretary, a treasurer’s report, and more. Here's a link to the agenda and Zoom information.