FROM THE CAB - February 2023

By Martin Wheeler, President, Carolinas Association for Passenger Trains

The proposed LYNX Silver Line Light Rail alignment between Belmont in Gaston County, and the CPCC Levine campus in Matthews has been reaffirmed with a minor route change near Bojangles Arena in east Charlotte. The action also retains a Center City alignment along 11th Street which was questioned by the Urban Land Institute (ULI) in 2022 and will involve further study of extending the first phase Silver Line alignment south of Gateway Station to Morehead Street (site of a speculated new NFL Football Stadium on land vacated recently by Charlotte Pipe and Foundry which moved to Oakboro in Stanly County).

ULI recommended that Charlotte Area Transit System evaluate “Interlining” (co-locating the Silver Line on the Blue Line or Gold Line tracks) as an approach to lower costs and improved ridership. CATS conducted engineering analysis and public engagement associated with the recommendation between March and December of 2022. ULI Study results indicated much stronger support for the Silver Line routing than interlining on the Blue Line. While the most support was for using interlining on the Gold Line, it will not be pursued because of much higher construction costs, and years of expected construction disruption along Trade Street.

The action in late January by the Metropolitan Transit Commission should also allow work on the Gateway Multi-Modal Transportation Center on West Trade Street to proceed. The project came to virtual halt when how the Silver Line light rail might enter the Center came into question. With the MTC action the Silver Line will enter Gateway Station parallel to the recently completed platform for Amtrak and NCDOT train services. Gateway may be ready for operations in 2026 if work now proceeds at a deliberate pace. The Center will service Amtrak, CATS Light Rail and Gold Line Streetcar, CATS Transit buses; and will be across 4th Street from a new Inter-City bus terminal operated by Greyhound. The Center will be in walking distance of a number of major Uptown attractions including professional football, soccer, and baseball stadiums.

Further information on these actions, and redevelopment of the Charlotte Transportation Center which serves the Blue Line light rail, Gold Line Streetcar, and CATS buses can be found here.

Greater Triangle Commuter Rail Study, connecting West Durham to Clayton, advances – The recently released study summarizes Phase 2 of the Greater Triangle Commuter Rail (GTCR) Feasibility Study. The purpose of this report is to support regional decision-making on whether, and how to move forward with commuter rail in the Triangle Region.

GoTriangle is the project sponsor of the GTCR Study, which aims to evaluate the feasibility of implementing a commuter rail service in North Carolina’s Triangle Region. The proposed commuter rail route is comprised of approximately 40 miles of existing shared rail corridor, beginning in West Durham, and extending east either to Auburn or Clayton.

Here are some Study High Points:

Building on previous studies, the rail service evaluated a base case scenario of eight trains during peak morning and evening periods, with two trains during middays and evenings to Auburn, and a potential extension of service to Clayton combined with the base service to Auburn.

The Triangle Region of North Carolina is growing at a rapid pace. By 2050, the region is projected to add more than 1.3 million people, which will bring approximately one million more vehicles to the area's already congested roadways. This level of expansion comes with mobility challenges, such as rising congestion on roadways and sprawling land use.

One of the primary goals and biggest challenges of this study is to determine whether it is feasible to run commuter rail service in a corridor already shared between freight and intercity passenger rail service without negatively impacting the reliability or efficiency of any of the three services.

Total capital cost of the project (including extension to Clayton) is projected at 2.25 billion dollars in today's dollars. Service could begin as early as 8 years (with a phased approach), and 12 years with total build out. Total operations and maintenance costs would run between 42 million dollars to Auburn, and 42.9 million dollars a year to Clayton.

Major phases to implement the project would include project development, design, and construction, testing, and commissioning. Each of those phases would include many interrelated technical, legal, and financial activities. Preliminary schedules—one conservative, one optimistic—were developed to inform expectations about when commuter rail service might be available to the riding public and to inform financial planning. Both schedules assume a decision to move forward with implementation by the end of 2022.

Phasing of the project includes real estate procurement, construction of everything along the rail line, construction of vehicle storage and maintenance facility, purchase of train sets, and several operating and maintenance agreements. Commuter rail is projected to be in service 2033-2035 depending on pathway taken.

Federal and regional funding sources would be used. One of the largest sources of funding for transit in the Triangle is the one-half percent (half- cent) sales and use tax collected in Durham, Orange, and Wake Counties. A half-cent sales tax means when individuals spend $10.00 on certain goods and services, an additional five cents ($0.05) is added to the transaction and dedicated to fund transit expansion.

Under state law, items such as food, gasoline, medicine, health care, and housing are excluded from the tax. Revenue from the half-cent sales tax can be used for financing, constructing, operating, and maintaining local public transit systems. The funds can be used to supplement but not supplant or replace existing funds or resources for public transit systems.

GoTriangle has statutory authority to levy this tax in Durham, Orange, and Wake Counties. Doing so in each county was contingent on the addition of the county to a tax district, a successful referendum, and approval from the Board of County Commissioners.

Durham, Orange, and Wake Counties passed the required referenda in 2011, 2012, and 2016 respectively, and the transit plans for each County determine how the revenue from the transit tax is spent.

Earlier studies have assumed that this project would seek funding through the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) Capital Investment Grants program, which can provide a grant for up to 50 percent of the capital cost of the project. State funding may be problematic due to a restriction placed on it by the General Assembly several years ago. There is also hope some federal Transportation Infrastructure Funds could be used if acted upon quickly enough.

Find further information on survey, review meeting locations, and link to full study document here.

Starting again in March, the Carolinas Association for Passengers Trains (CAPT) will meet on five different Saturdays this year in five different locations throughout North and South Carolina to discuss ways to further develop new and improved passenger rail service in the Carolinas. Columbia, SC, was the host city for the January 2023 meeting.

Bi-monthly meetings are scheduled for Wilmington, NC, March 18; Greensboro, NC, May 20; Charleston, SC, July 15; Charlotte, NC, September 16, and Raleigh, NC, November 18. All meeting locations are subject to change, or conversion to zoom sessions due to circumstances beyond our control.

CAPT MEMBERSHIP as of February 7 is at 59 paid up members, meaning those who have paid dues for the calendar year 2023. Among them are 17 who have renewed their membership after being absent for as many as 12 years, says Treasurer Ralph Messera.

Membership breakdown is as follows: NC - 35, SC -14, Other States – 11.

Past year’s totals were: 2020- 48; 2021- 39, and 2022- 35.

Four individuals were elected in November 2022 to two-year terms on the CAPT board of directors. They are Bob Bischoff; Ed Locklin; David Robinson, and Tom Darling. Their two-year terms end in November 2024.

Seven other board members continue in terms ending in November 2023. Those individuals are Phil Astwood, John Bobinyec, Bill Cole, Jim Frierson, Ralph Meserra, Martin Wheeler, and Don Yehle.

Present Officers (President, NC and SC Vice-Presidents, and Treasurer) were re-elected last November to one-year terms. The Secretary's position is vacant. Any CAPT member interested in serving as our board secretary is asked to contact President Wheeler at Your board appreciates Phil Astwood volunteering to do January meeting minutes and assembling November minutes.

At the January meeting in Columbia; Tommy Thomas from Castle Hayne, NC, was appointed to a one- year board term ending in November 2023. The CAPT board now has 12 members, and several others from North Carolina have expressed an interest in coming on board. We can have a maximum of 18 members. More representation from South Carolina is needed.

Five historic railroad stations of the United States are featured in a new issue of USPS Forever Stamps. In making its announcement, the Postal Service said “railroad stations exude history, romance, and the optimism associated with forward motion. These new Forever stamps feature 5 architectural gems that continue to play important roles in their communities.”

Stamps will be issued on March 9.