FROM THE CAB - January 2023

By Martin Wheeler, President, Carolinas Association for Passenger Trains

AS WE GO TO PRESS – On Wednesday, January 11, it was reported by numerous media outlets that Amtrak’s Auto Train was delayed for 20 hours in rural South Carolina, following the derailment of a freight train and a crew change.

“A CSX freight derailment forced the Amtrak train to detour from its normal route, and the train was delayed further in Denmark, SC, when a crew change was required since the hours for the previous crew had expired, Amtrak said in a statement,” reported the Associated Press.

“Customers were provided regular updates, along with meals, snack packs, and beverages. Additional food from local businesses along the route was also provided during the trip. The onboard staff worked with pet owners to provide bathroom breaks,” Amtrak is reported to have said.

The Auto Train departed Monday night from Lorton, Virginia, before arriving in Sanford, Florida, on Wednesday morning. The southbound auto train was carrying 563 passengers and 350 vehicles, sources say.

WELCOME BACK – A number of former members have rejoined the Carolinas Association for Passenger Trains (CAPT), bringing our membership to 38. The majority of CAPT members hail from North Carolina (24). Nine individuals from South Carolina hold membership, while five others come from Florida, Washington D.C., and Virginia.

MEMBERSHIP DRIVE LAUNCHED – CAPT’s checkbook balance is at $2,704 as of September 20th. Treasurer Ralph Messera of Matthews, NC, is watching his mailbox daily for checks to increase that balance. More importantly, Ralph and other leadership team members are seeking your support to help drive new and improved passenger rail service throughout North and South Carolina.

All members should have received a renewal letter with an envelope addressed to CAPT Treasurer, 401 S. Fremont, Matthews, NC 28105-5655. Online renewals are being taken as well at

CAPT’s due’s structure is as follows: $25, individual; $15, student and retired, and $100, corporate. Monies help your leadership work to reverse negative passenger rail trends, including Amtrak’s failure to fully restore services and crews, leading to service suspensions, says President Martin Wheeler.

“While the Gulf Coast situation seems to have been resolved, the Class 1’s are still unfriendly to Amtrak operations and possible expansions,” Wheeler adds.

In a letter addressed to CAPT friends, Treasurer Ralph Messera emphasizes six positive rail accomplishments last year in the Carolinas. They are:

  • Completion of the new tracks and station platforms in Charlotte
  • Connection of the Maintenance facility to the mainline in Charlotte and the operation of the first test train.
  • $25 million Grant for the construction of the new station in Lexington, NC
  • The purchase of the ‘S’ line in NC in coordination with Virginia’s purchase of the line from Petersburg to the NC border.
  • Anticipation of the 4th Piedmont Service in the spring, which along with the Carolinian will give us 5 trains per day between Charlotte and Raleigh.
  • Continued interest in train service in SC, particularly the Charlotte to Columbia possibility.

CAPT SEEKS NEW SECRETARY – Phil Astwood, longtime CAPT board Secretary, is moving on to new endeavors, opening up a vital board position. Board President Martin Wheeler seeks to fill this position and other director slots at the January 21st board meeting in Columbia, SC. The Richland County Library (1431 Assembly St.) is the meeting location. The three-hour meeting starts at 1 p.m. and will be held in Room 200 (Room A). Street parking is available; meters are free on Saturdays.

Want fellowship and excellent cuisine before the meeting? Members will gather at 11:30 a.m. at the California Dreaming Restaurant (401 S. Main St.). This restaurant once was the old Union Station, serving Southern Railroad and the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad in Columbia.

All CAPT members are invited to attend the January 21st meeting. Nine passenger rail issues are to be discussed, including:

  • R2R Developments (Raleigh-Richmond)
  • Western NC Rail Committee
  • Infrastructure funding for Western and Eastern NC service extensions.
  • Florence-Myrtle Beach rail passenger efforts
  • South Carolina resolution drive in support of expanded rail passenger service
  • Columbia – Charlotte passenger rail initiative
  • Charlotte Area Transit update
  • State Advisory Committee reports on monitoring of Rail to Train Corridors
  • Passenger rail news from nearby states and across the nation.

NEW PASSENGER RAIL TRACKS IN ORLANDO – Passenger rail may someday connect Orlando International Airport and the Orange County Convention Center. As widely reported, this 11-mile stretch would be called the Sunshine Corridor. Universal Orlando Resort made application with Orange County, Florida, to form a community development district (CDD). Shingle Creek Transit Utility Development District would be the CDD and would help finance the corridor’s development.

MERIDIAN, MS, TO HOST 2023 FALL RPA MEETING – While Raleigh/Durham was under consideration as a host site for the Rail Passengers Association Fall 2023 meeting, Rail Passenger Association members selected Meridian, MS.

Mississippi RPA Council Representative Jerome Trahan said this about the winning city:

"Meridian, Mississippi is a town built by the railroads. Our cultural lineage is cemented as the birthplace of Jimmie Rodgers, (The Singing Brakeman) recognized as the father of American Music. Our transportation roots run still deeper as the hometown of former FRA Administrator, Gill Carmichael and Amtrak Board of Directors chair, John Robert Smith. Meridian’s Union Station was the first multimodal station built with public/private funds in the US and is a model for what an emphasis on transportation can do for a community.

“Since its opening in 1997 the station renovation was the catalyst for the rebirth of what is now a thriving downtown. The MSU Riley Center (a downtown jewel) features the Grand Opera House of Mississippi, built in 1891 and positioned as the last stop on Historic Crescent, Southerner, and Pelican line for theater and musical performances before those troupes terminated in New Orleans. With the station renovation this small MS town has the infrastructure for the eventuality of higher speed passenger travel and extensions of Amtrak service to the west.

“Just steps from Union Station Meridian is also the home of The Max, the Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Experience. A $60M arts showcase that celebrates the achievements of Mississippians in the arts that have changed the world.

None of this would have been possible without the railroad and makes Meridian the perfect destination to see the benefits of transportation to this county. A new historic downtown hotel (The Three-foot Hotel) also adds to what would be an amazing location for this event."

Joining Raleigh/Durham and Meridian on the “top five” list for the Fall 2023 RPA meeting were Providence, RI; Buffalo, NY, and San Antonio, TX.