From The Cab - January 2024

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

MAYOR ALEXANDER COMMENTS ON FEDERAL GRANT FOR FEASIBILITY STUDY OF SALISBURY TO ASHEVILLE RAIL CORRIDOR – The Salisbury Post reported on January 3 that the rail corridor connecing Salisbury and Asheville is one of seven chosen in North Carolina for a combined $3.5 million in federal grant funding.

Brad Dountz’s story lists all seven NC corridors to receive $500,000 each in funding, including Charlotte to Washington D.C.; Charlotte to Atlanta, GA; Charlotte to Kings Mountain; Winston Salem to Raleigh; Fayetteville to Raleigh; Wilmington to Raleigh, and Asheville to Salisbury.

“We all got the exact same amount of money for studies. I think that’s an indication that the federal DOT is interested in all of them equally, but the studies will show priority,” Salisbury Mayor Karen Alexander is quoted by Dountz as having said.

Read more here.

BLUE RIDGE PUBLIC RADIO TOUTS SALISBURY TO ASHEVILLE RAIL CORRIDOR – “Asheville hasn’t had passenger rail service since 1975, but that could change,” says the National Public Radio affiliate for Western North Carolina. As is being reported state-wide, $500,000 in federal dollars will be used to study the feasibility of developing this passenger rail corridor. For more information, go here.

GOVERNOR COOPER ON RAIL PASSENGER SERVICE WCNC-TV CHARLOTTE, DECEMBER 17, 2023 – North Carolina Governor Cooper talked “rail talk” at the 6:15 mark in this video.

BLOCK AND BARNES – FORESIGHT IS GREATER THAN 20/20 -- In 1986, citizens of New Hanover, Pender, and Onslow Counties in southeastern North Carolina watched as historic segments of railroad track were removed from corridors that had contained them for almost 150 years – specifically, small segments of the original Wilmington & Weldon Railroad in New Hanover between the Northeast Cape Fear River and downtown Wilmington; the entirety of the approximately 45- mile segment from Wilmington to Jacksonville; and most importantly, the 26-mile segment of the W&W between Wallace and Castle Hayne (W2CH).

But what was to become of the remaining strips of real estate (generally 130 feet wide)? In the case of W2CH, CSX owned the corridor outright--"in fee simple"; this was also the case for the New Hanover segments. However, the Jacksonville line was built on a corridor that was a long series of easements obtained from the landowners "for railroad purposes" with no outright CSX ownership. This meant that when the tracks were removed, the "railroad purposes" went with them, and every slice of the corridor (on each side of the center line) reverted back to the landowner from which the easement was obtained. This essentially doomed the Wilmington-to-Jacksonville line from ever being re-established.

Thankfully, the W2CH did not suffer the same fate, as negotiations began in 1992 between the State of North Carolina and CSX to transfer ownership of that segment to the state. This initiative was led by State Senators Frank Block (D-New Hanover) and Henson Barnes (D-Wayne). Sen. Block envisioned the time when W2CH would need to be restored to support growth at the Port of Wilmington (this has been borne out by the opening of the Carolina Connector Intermodal Terminal [CCX] in Rocky Mount, a "straight shot" north of Wilmington). Sen. Barnes saw W2CH restoration as it related to support of Seymour Johnson AFB in Goldsboro, Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, and the Global TransPark in Kinston.

Negotiations progressed, and in a legislative session in early 1994, state acquisition of the Wallace-to-Wilmington corridor became law. In essence, CSX offered W2CH to the state basically free of charge in exchange for certain concessions; chief among these was the ability for CSX to execute track construction, repairs, and crossing work with limited or no notice to the state beforehand. This, in contrast to the weeks or months of notice and approval required previously before any work on or adjacent to state-maintained highways could commence. This "streamlining" of relations between CSX and NCDOT could be seen recently in the execution of the Wilmington Beltline Improvement Project, where one could see clearly that CSX was in charge of crossing closures and repairs, not NCDOT.

The inclusion of Wilmington-to-Raleigh in the Federal Amtrak Corridor ID Program has shed new (and intense) light on restoration of the W2CH segment. Port of Wilmington freight traffic and Amtrak passenger traffic will have to co-exist on a newly re-established and complete W&W. And yes, there are other thorny issues to be resolved having to do with bridges and additional land acquisition outside W2CH. But without the foresight and efforts over 30 years ago by Senators Frank Block and Henson Barnes to prevent W2CH from being sold piecemeal, as they say these days, "We're not having this conversation.”

Tommy Thomas, Board of Directors
Carolinas Association for Passenger Trains

“EVERYBODY KNOWS THAT I AM THE TRAIN GUY” – William (Bill) Hunter Cole, a NC Train Host for 26 years and a former, long-time board member of the Carolinas Association for Passenger Trains, passed away December 23, 2023, at the age of 94.

In an obituary published by McEwen Funeral Service – Pineville Chapel, it was reported that “Bill was very busy in his retirement after becoming active in the NC Department of Transportation Rail Division in 1991.

“He served as a train host for 26 years, assisting passengers on 700 roundtrips, covering 350,000 miles. He coordinated numerous train trips to the capital for school groups and helped improve the landscaping at the Charlotte station. In addition, he made 14 cross country train trips with friends and family, bringing his train travel total to over 500,000 miles.

“He was recognized in March 2022 by the NC Department of Transportation Rail Division for outstanding service as a leader in the NC Train Host Association and for his tireless efforts to promote and enhance passenger train service in NC.

“Bill summed it up by saying, ‘Everybody knows that I am the train guy.’”

CAPT became aware of “our” loss by his son, Randy Cole. “I’m writing to you (CAPT) from Dad's email account, to inform you that Dad passed away on Saturday, December 23 ...peacefully, at Aldersgate (Continuing Care Retirement Center). He was 94. I'm hopeful that you can assist me in spreading this sad news to his friends in the train world.

“A celebration of his life is being planned for January 20th at 1:00 pm, at St. Stephen UMC in Charlotte.

“I hope you'll make a note of my contact information, which I'll include below. I'll also be following Dad's email account for now; in case anyone needs to reach out through that channel.”

Randy Cole
(860) 202-8670

To honor Bill and to enable CAPT board members to attend his memorial service, the January CAPT Board Meekng is being postponed one week – to Saturday, January 27, in Columbia, SC. Watch your email for the location and time of this board meeting.

To view Bill’s complete obituary, click on this link.


A Bluffton (SC) Men’s Group will welcome the Carolinas Association for Passenger Trains (CAPT) on Thursday, January 18th, as our passenger rail advocacy group continues to educate the public about seven potential passenger rail corridors in North Carolina and the country’s $66 billion investment in passenger rail through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

Three CAPT board members will be at the Bluffton Men’s Fellowship Club on Thursday, January 18, to talk about CAPT, history and current developments and rail possibilities for South Carolina, and the country as a whole. A video will be shown on Florida’s Brightline passenger rail service which connects Orlando International Airport with Miami in under three hours.

President Martin Wheeler will provide an expected audience of 40 club members with “a brief history on rail passenger service in the United States, private railroads to Amtrak, and private and public initiatives to Low Country residents who have relocated there from the Northeast Corridor, the Midwest, and elsewhere.”

CAPT Vice President Jim Frierson of Columbia is expected to join Wheeler at the event, which was arranged by Don Yehle, a CAPT board member who is also a member of the Bluffton Men’s Fellowship Club.

CAPT members are welcome at the January 18th event, which begins with a reception at 5:30 p.m.; dinner at 6 p.m., followed by the program. The event will be held at Lulu’s Restaurant at Rose Hill Golf Club, 4 Clubhouse Dr., Bluffton, just off of U.S. Route 278, which connects with I-95.

Cost is $33, with guests choosing one of three entrees – beef, chicken, or fish. Anyone interested in attending should contact Yehle at Registration deadline is the week of January 8.

Individuals coming to the golf course from out-of-town would take I-95 to U.S. Route 278 toward Hilton Head Island. Travel 8-9 miles past Margaritaville and several car dealerships. After passing Buckwalter Parkway, go to the next stop light and turn right at Rose Hill Plantation/Golf Club. You’ll drive up to a gatehouse, where there will be a pass waiting for you. The guard will direct you to Lulu’s Restaurant.

MATHEWS URGES DILIGENCE BY RAIL ADVOCATES DURIING ELECTION YEAR – “Make sure you know where all the candidates stand on our (passenger rail) issues. No matter if they are the incumbent or challenger, no matter what party they represent – will they be a friend?" says Jim Mathews, president and CEO, Rail Passengers Association (RPA).

“We stand at the start of something incredible for passenger rail, something we haven’t seen in our lifetimes. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law’s first allocations are just starting to be made, $26.4 billion in 2023 alone, but there’s still a LOT more work to do,” the rail advocacy group head said.

“We must remain focused on our real end game: defending the historic funding we achieved after half a century of patient advocacy, maintaining current levels of funding to pay for passenger rail operations, partnering with communities across the country to help them make the case for funding for their rail projects and shoring up their public transportation networks, and preparing for the next five-year surface transportation reauthorization,” Mathews continued.

HIGH SPEED RAIL ALLIANCE LEADER PRAISES NORTH CAROLINA’S RAIL PLAN -- “An (HSRail) Alliance webinar recently explored how North Carolina – through judicious use of limited resources – is making steady progress toward a long-term plan to connect the entire state with an integrated network of regional trains and buses,” according to Richard Harnish, executive director, High Speed Rail Alliance.

“It (North Carolina) is among the handful of states best positioned to take advantage of federal rail funds; just as more federal funds are flowing. North Carolina has overcome the lack of federal coordination by forming a compact with Virginia to build regional rail that links their major cities to Washington, D.C., and New York,” he added.

In an annual update to its members, Harnish also cited the High Speed and Intercity Rail Program Passenger Rail Program of 2008 as being one of three federal transportation reauthorization bills that “helped North Carolina and other states build a stronger foundation” to get America closer to the network this country needs.

Two other reauthorization bills have been key in building a stronger foundation for rail – the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements Program (2015) and the Federal State Partnership for Intercity Passenger Rail (2021).

The former bill “allowed the FRA to take a more comprehensive approach to the railroad network,” while the latter “included enough resources to get us the tipping point -- If states are aggressive about pursuing the opportunities,” Harnish said.