FROM THE CAB - June 2023

By Martin Wheeler, President Carolinas Association for Passenger Trains

GROWTH WILL MAKE AMTRAK MORE EFFICIENT -- Stephen Gardner, chief executive officer, National Railroad Passenger Corp. (Amtrak), made the comments below before the United States House of Representatives House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure, Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials on Tuesday, June 6, 2023.

“For Amtrak to become more efficient, we must grow ridership and increase service. It’s a very simple equation: Investments in intercity passenger rail that improve service and increase ridership make the service more efficient and enable it to produce more economic and public benefits for each dollar of public investment.

“Let me give you one example. Our state-supported, Piedmont service along the Piedmont Corridor between Raleigh and Charlotte, North Carolina began in 1995 with one round trip a day. The trip took three hours and 45 minutes, and during the first full year of service the route carried only 29,000 passengers.

“Since then, the Piedmont Corridor and the Amtrak service operating over it have been transformed as a result of the investments North Carolina has made and the federal grants the Corridor has received.

“Piedmont ridership has increased tenfold to approximately 300,000 passengers annually. Track and signal improvements have increased speeds and reduced trip times, added capacity and improved reliability for both Amtrak and freight operations.

“Piedmont service has been increased to three round trips, and a fourth-round trip will be added in July. When that happens there will be departures throughout the day, with one train in each direction making the trip in less than three hours.

“Safety has been enhanced through the creation of a sealed corridor with state-of-the-art grade crossing warning devices.

“Historic stations have been restored, and a new station built in Raleigh that has sparked redevelopment in the surrounding neighborhood. A new station planned in Charlotte will bring trains into the city’s downtown where connections with multiple local transit services are available.

“In addition to attracting more passengers, increased train frequency service and shorter trip times have made the service more efficient. Equipment utilization is 33% higher than at the service’s start because some train sets can now make more than one round trip a day.

“Adding trains also means that infrastructure and station investments benefit more trains carrying many more passengers. More improvements and more service are planned along the Piedmont Corridor and rail lines not presently served by Amtrak with which it connects.

“North Carolina is using a federal grant to acquire new equipment that will be more energy efficient, increase passenger capacity, and provide an enhanced customer experience that will attract new riders.

“North Carolina is also planning new routes that would connect with the Piedmont Corridor, including Wilmington to Raleigh and Salisbury to Asheville, and has submitted applications for their inclusion in FRA’s Corridor ID program.

“When the “S Line” – the direct, rail line from Raleigh to Petersburg, Virginia on which trains will operate up to 110 miles per hour – is restored to service, the Piedmont Corridor and Virginia’s Petersburg-Richmond- Washington corridor will become part of a continuous, fast, high-capacity passenger rail corridor from Charlotte to Boston,” Gardner said.

BUZZ CONTINUES FOR LONG-DISTANCE PROJECTS THROUGHOUT AMERICA – Service improvements on Amtrak’s Cardinal and Sunset Limited, including making them daily trains (not three-days a week) are among 16 proposed projects, outside of the Carolinas, identified through the ongoing Corridor ID Program and the Federal-State Partnership for Intercity Passenger Rail.

​ Three other long-distance trains would see service improvements. They are: The Southwest Chief (signal modernization between Colorado and New Mexico); the Empire Builder (rail enhancements in Montana), and the Crescent (1-20 service extension from Mississippi through Louisiana to Texas).

Approval of Federal grant applications for approximately $716 million would be required to turn these passenger rail improvements into reality. It’s hoped letters of support will sway decision-makers to improve the reliability of Amtrak’s national network, reduce travel times, and expand service.

In the Northeast Corridor, 14 proposed projects have been submitted, including ones to modernize critical infrastructure, improve stations, and expand Amtrak service. Northeast Corridor projects have a price tag of $7.3 billion; many have letters of support as Amtrak attempts to use grant programs created by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), rail industry reports say.

AMTRAK BOARD REQUIREMENTS OUTLINED -- A passenger rail advocate leader from Florida, Jim Tilley, wants new Amtrak board members to be committed to the long-distance network, to possess transportation and hospitality industry experience, and to provide aggressive managerial oversight.

“Amtrak requires a representative board which complies with the law,” he adds.

This past week, a bipartisan group of senators announced that they will block Biden Administration nominees to Amtrak’s board of directors until there is a slate of appointees that meet the requirements for geographic diversity.

Rail Passengers has made securing a voice for passengers in the Midwest, the West, and the South a key plank of its advocacy over the past few years.

The president of the United States appoints individuals to the Amtrak board, with advice and consent of the Senate.

WNC RAIL COMMITTEE TO MEET AGAIN ON SEPTEMBER 6 - At its June 7 meeting, “renewed interest was announced in passenger rail service between Hendersonville and Asheville.” Blue Ridge Southern Rail has had preliminary talks about being the rail service provider.

Meanwhile, budget negotiations are ongoing in North Carolina’s Transportation Appropriations Committee with $10 million designated for IIJA matching grant funds. The budget process is expected to be completed by July 1.

North Carolina’s Rail Division ridership metrics show the best first quarter ever, with 135,000 passengers in January, February, and March. Ridership is 50% better than the first three months of 2022 and 30% higher than similar months in 2019, WNC Rail Committee members were told.

April ridership numbers were the second best in Rail Division history.

In other rail news, Andrews Valley Rail Tours opened recreation tours in April using motor assisted rail bikes, it was reported. For more information on these five-mile excursions, go to

A dedication is pending for a Rail Project Marker at Ridgecrest. An information kiosk will be located by the marker, to commemorate a convict labor burial site. The marker will be a two-ton bolder, WNC meeting minutes show.

CAPT TO COMMENT ON ASHEVILLE-SALISBURY RAIL SERVICE FEASIBILITY STUDY -- With the feasibility report out for the Asheville- Salisbury rail passenger service, expect the Carolinas Association for Passenger Trains to submit its comments on behalf of passenger rail advocates from North and South Carolina.

Acknowledging that the vast majority of high points have been covered in previous issues of From the Cab, President Wheeler explained the Federal Rail Administration (FRA) will decide on whether the route will be included in the Corridor Identification Program this October.

“If it does include the project, then 80 percent of the development and design costs will be paid with federal dollars,” Wheeler added. For more on the feasibility study, click on the link:

RESOLUTION FOR MORE TRAINS PASSES – “Wilmington and Wayne County have passed resolutions supporting rail passenger service between Raleigh and Wilmington via Goldsboro. The corridor is one of 13 corridors supported by the North Carolina Department of Transportation's Rail Division for inclusion in the Federal Railroad Administration's "Corridor ID Program,” said Martin Wheeler, president, Carolinas Association for Passenger Trains.

“The corridors for nationwide projects are to be announced later this year. Asheville-Salisbury is also one of the 13 corridors supported by North Carolina. Links below provide information on the resolutions passed, and on the Southeastern North Carolina rail passenger study, driving the new proposed service to Wilmington,” Wheeler added.

SOUTH CAROLINA LIVING Magazine has published its 2023-2024 legislative directory, a must read for passenger rail advocates in the Palmetto State. Published by Palmetto Electric Cooperative Inc., readers can learn contact information for elected officials at the federal and state level, as well the SC’s Public Service Commission and Office of Regulatory Staff. To order a copy of the legislative guide, either call 843-325-4051 or email Please leave your full name and U.S. Post Office mailing address.