From The Cab - February 2024

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

RAIL LINK TO WILMINGTON INTERNATIONAL – A non-profit organization dedicated to restoring rail travel between Wilmington and Raleigh is endorsing recent Corridor ID funding from the Federal Railroad Administration. The funds include the Raleigh to Wilmington corridor, and the Charlotte to Atlanta corridor proposed to have a direct high speed passenger rail connection to Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International, the world’s busiest airport.

Eastern Carolina Rail and its president, Steve Unger, submitted the following article for use in From the Cab: “When $3.5 million in Federal funds became designated for passenger rail corridor evaluation in North Carolina, the Wilmington to Raleigh route (via Goldsboro) was one of seven routes to receive $500,000 to get started.

“One of those corridors stands out because it proposes a direct high speed Amtrak connection to the Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport in South Carolina and then Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International, the world’s busiest airport.

“While Amtrak currently connects directly with only four airports nationwide: Baltimore/Washington (GWI), Hollywood Burbank (BUR), Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport (MKE), and Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR), it provides service to others by commuter rail.

“Could Wilmington International Airport (ILM) be next? The tracks for the proposed Wilmington/Raleigh actually cross Hall Road (off Blue Clay Rd.) at the old airport entrance and could theoretically be connected to an airport terminal via a short spur.

“Think about it. Out of the 20 flights that go inbound and outbound from Wilmington daily only six each go to a North Carolina destination (Charlotte). None go to Raleigh although Piedmont Airlines once connected Wilmington and Raleigh in the pre-jet era.

“If you want to go to Raleigh right now from the Port City on mass transport, you have to take a bus. That’s why rail makes so much sense with a target of 70-80 mph trains and estimated travel time under three hours, according to current estimates.

Adding three round trips from Wilmington International Airport (ILM) is almost like adding three more flights (each way) a day and providing a commuter link to downtown, too (where the new Wilmington train station will be located). In fact, one DOT Rail official suggested that the potential for more commuter trains from the airport to the city could make sense in the future.

The rapid growth of ILM has been nothing short of astounding over the last 50 years. With the Raleigh rail proposal from Wilmington now on the table, creating an airport link would not significantly add to the total project cost, expected to be greater than $300 million. In addition, federal funds are specifically available for airport expansion – which could cover a terminal link to rail travel.

How many passenger stops that will be created along the way is open to question? Five communities (Burgaw, Wallace, Warsaw, Goldsboro, and Clayton) are all open to consideration. So why not ILM?

The tracks for the proposed Wilmington/Raleigh actually cross Hall Road (off Blue Clay Rd.) at the old airport entrance and could theoretically be connected to an airport terminal with a short spur. (Photo and caption information provided by Steve Unger, president, Eastern Carolina Rail.)

IS A SPEAKERS’ BUREAU IN “THE CARDS” FOR THE CAROLINAS ASSOCIATION FOR PASSENGER TRAINS? – On the heels of President Martin Wheeler’s passenger rail presentation January 18 to the Bluffton (SC) Men’s Fellowship Club, interest has been expressed by CAPT board members to create a CAPT speakers’ bureau. Dr. David Robinson, the organization’s North Carolina vice president, has prepared a four-page speaker’s bureau proposal and a separate, partial list of business and civic clubs in North and South Carolina which might have interest in hearing about passenger rail advocacy work in the Carolinas. Says Dr. Robinson:

“When an organization decides to start a speakers’ bureau, it assembles a list of potential speakers it feels are qualified to talk to the public about its area of interest or expertise. These speakers may be people who have had life and/or work experiences related to the organization’s mission, or they may be people who are particularly educated or knowledgeable about the subject.”

Continuing, Dr. Robinson explains “the organization lets the public know that these speakers are available to talk to different groups, and speaking engagements can be scheduled by contacting the sponsoring organization. Speakers’ bureaus educate and inform the public about the organization and its issues.”

With $3.5 million in federal grant funding awarded to study seven new rail corridors or improved rail routes in the Tar Heel State, its being argued now is the time to launch a CAPT speakers’ bureau. Raising public awareness about passenger rail issues, increasing CAPT’s visibility, and increasing public understanding of our organization and how we can help public entities examine these corridors are among the seven reasons Dr. Robinson wants to create a small group of individuals willing to take our message to business groups, service organizations, classes or clubs at local schools and universities, and professional organizations.

THIRTY-NINE BLUFFTON-AREA RESIDENTS ENGAGE WITH PRESIDENT WHEELER -- In Bluffton last month, two CAPT Board Members participated in a question-and-answer session on the future of passenger rail in the United States and the Carolinas, in particular. SC Vice-President Jim Frierson touched on efforts to advance rail as a transportation option in the Palmetto State, noting studies on commuter rail services and studies on the use of existing rail lines to connect larger city pairs. “The studies have been ‘shelved,’ due to cost and the lack of ‘political will’ to carry them out,” he said.

Frierson, a Columbia resident, encourages anyone to contact their state representatives about their desire to bring to South Carolina improved and expanded passenger rail service.

President Wheeler began his presentation by showing a video that asks “Could Brightline be a model for highspeed rail in the U.S.?” Brief and patient with knowledgeable replies, Wheeler found the group of mostly retired individuals curious and interested, to the point of taking home with them a CAPT-produced brochure on the possible future of passenger rail in South Carolina.

Questions were so numerous there wasn’t time to show five other passenger rail-related links. They are:

Passenger Rail Possibilities Potential South Carolina intercity rail services could link Charlotte, NC; Columbia, SC, and Charleston, SC. Another passenger rail possibility would be trains connecting Greenville, Columbia, Florence, and Myrtle Beach. Please click on the above link to learn more.

Route of the "Capital Cities" Columbia, SC, and Raleigh, NC, are two Carolina capital cities, which would be linked by a proposed train operating through Charlotte, NC. Departments of Transportation in South and North Carolina, along with Amtrak, would operate the train. The above link contains a map showing this rail route.


FRA LONG-DISTANCE SERVICE STUDY - Core Presentation" This link is comprehensive, including a study overview on long distance passenger rail service. Enjoy!

Passenger Rail Advocates Push For South Dakota Amtrak Service This state is the only one of the lower 48 states to never have had Amtrak passenger train service; two of South Dakota’s more prominent cities – Rapid City and Sioux Falls – last had service in 1960 and 1965, respectively. Amtrak began operations on May 1, 1971.

RAIL NATION: DC 2024 HOTEL REMINDER – Rail Passengers Association (RPA) members planning to participate in the March 17-20 event are reminded a “block of rooms” is now open for booking at the Embassy Suites by Hilton Suites by Hilton Alexandria Old Town. “The block rate is $234 night plus taxes and fees,” says RPA Joe Aiello, director of Community Engagement & Organizing. Full conference admission for students is $80; full admission is $299 for members, both in-person and virtual.

Here is the Rail Nation schedule:

  • Sunday, March 17 – 4 p.m. Rail Nation Registration Opens; 5-6 p.m. Public Board Meeting.
  • Monday, March 18 – 8 a.m. Registration Opens; 8:30 am – 5 pm, Rail Nation Programming; 6-8 p.m., Ale Nation.
  • Tuesday, March 19 – Scheduled Hill Visits.
  • Wednesday, March 20 – 8 a.m. Registration Opens; 8:30 a.m. – 12 noon Council Business Meeting; 1 p.m. Board Meeting.

The RPA is the largest national organization that serves as a voice for the more than 40 million rail passengers in the United States. Two board vice presidents of the Carolinas Association for Passenger Trains (CAPT) are state representatives to the RPA. They are Dr. David Robinson, North Carolina, and Jim Frierson, South Carolina.

WILMINGTON, NC, RESIDENT AGREES TO JOIN CAPT BOARD – Holli Saperstein of Wilmington has agreed to fill a vacant position on the CAPT board of directors. Ms. Saperstein will represent North Carolina on the 12- person board. It is hoped Ms. Saperstein can attend the March 16 board meeting in Greensboro, NC.

During a board discussion about a CAPT speakers’ bureau (see above), Dr. Robinson encouraged the board to avoid the creation of a “canned presentation,” instead write and produce several presentations tailored to the audiences being addressed (i.e. Rotary Club, Lions’ Club, city/county council, women’s or men’s group, student groups, and chamber of commerce). Before the Greensboro meeting, the vice president hopes to find the time to develop a presentation prototype.

Getting young people involved and aware of CAPT’s mission to educate the public about transportation and passenger rail are priorities for Columbia’s Charles Gossett, who is beginning a two-year term on the CAPT board. While striking out thus far on finding an existing University of South Carolina student group to become involved in rail passenger advocacy, Gossett isn’t giving up on that idea, which brought a smile to the face of one board member. “Passenger rail advocacy isn’t for the faint of heart,” said Editor Don Yehle.

Separate rail advocacy goals were advanced for North Carolina and South Carolina. A CAPT resolution supporting the proposed service between Salisbury and Asheville will be written. CAPT representative(s) will continue to attend meetings of the Western NC Rail Committee, which is spearheading development of the popular Asheville-Salisbury line. Meanwhile, in neighboring South Carolina, CAPT is calling on the South Carolina Department of Transportation to add a dedicated rail division within its ranks to support and push for more passenger rail service.

Notes Jim Frierson, a retired SCDOT employee, CAPT board member, and contributor to this newsletter: “It will likely take an act of the state legislature to authorize adding a ‘dedicated rail division’ to SCDOT.”

Board members also are encouraging South Carolina to join their counterparts in North Carolina to design a “rail banking” program, where states purchase rail lines about to be abandoned and hold them for future rail service. Rail banking allows for the creation of temporary walking/bike trails or to simply hold the rail property until its needed again for rail service.

FY22-23 Corridor ID

As reported in the December 2023 issue of From the Cab, the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) was successful getting seven nominations for new passenger rail corridors, including Asheville to Salisbury; Wilmington to Raleigh; Fayetteville to Raleigh; Winston Salem to Raleigh; Charlotte to Kings Mountain; Charlotte to Atlanta, and Charlotte to Washington D.C. The Federal government has awarded $500,000 grants to NCDOT for each corridor to develop “a scope, schedule, and cost estimate for preparing, completing, or documenting service development plans.” Nationwide, 70 corridors have been funded, including these seven. The project name; project applicant; states involved; city/place performance; and project description for all 70 corridors can be viewed by clicking on the above link.

CITY Amtrak
Trains SB
Trains NB
Burlington BNC 79/80 73/75/77 72/74/78
Cary CYN 79/80, 91/92 71/73/75/77 72/74/76/78
Charlotte CLT 19/20, 79/80 71/73/75/77 72/74/76/78
Durham DNC 79/80 71/73/75/77 72/74/76/78
Fayetteville FAY 89/90, 97/98    
Gastonia GAS 19/20    
Greensboro GRO 19/20, 79/80 71/73/75/77 72/74/76/78
Hamlet HAM 91/92    
High Point HPT 19/20, 79/80 73/75/77 72/74/78
Kannapolis KAN 19/20, 79/80 71/73/75 72/74/76
Raleigh RGH 79/80, 91/92 71/73/75/77 72/74/76/78
Rocky Mount RMT 79/80, 89/90, 91/92, 97/98    
Salisbury SAL 19/20, 79/80 73/75/77 72/74/78
Selma-Smithfield SSM 79/80, 89/90    
Southern Pines SOP 91/92    
Wilson WLN 79/80, 89/90    

19/20 Crescent (New Orleans – New York)
71-78 Piedmont (Raleigh – Charlotte)
79/80 Carolinian (Charlotte – New York)
89/90 Palmetto (Savannah – New York)
91/92 Silver Star (Miami/Tampa – New York)
97/98 Silver Meteor (Miami – New York)

CITY Amtrak
Trains SB
Trains NB
Camden CAM 91/92    
Charleston CHS 89/90, 97/98    
Clemson CSN 19/20    
Columbia CLB 91/92    
Denmark DNK 91/92    
Dillon DIL 89/90    
Florence FLO 89/90, 97/98    
Greenville GRV 19/20    
Kingstree KTR 89/90, 97/98    
Spartanburg SPB 19/20    
Yemassee YEM 89/90, 97/98    

19/20 Crescent (New Orleans – New York)
89/90 Palmetto (Savannah – New York)
91/92 Silver Star (Miami/Tampa – New York)
97/98 Silver Meteor (Miami – New York)