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

AMTRAK AND STATES MUST PARTNER FOR MORE PASSENGER RAIL – Amtrak President Stephen Gardner walked off a Piedmont train in Salisbury, NC to address a meeting of the North Carolina Mayor's Coalition on October 11th. Gardner told members of the Metro Mayor's Inter-City Passenger Rail Work Group that additional rail passenger service will not happen unless there is a "partnership" between the states and Amtrak.

Gardner says NC has that working relationship and praised past and present efforts saying “North Carolina is one of the best in the United States in knowledge, vision, and performance. North Carolina is well positioned for future development and expansion." Amtrak will support North Carolina's vision as it is "so well positioned".

Amtrak President Stephen Gardner

Amtrak "wants to create value for the United States, which has the largest rail network of any country in the world. We should use assets to build a more connected society. There is a huge opportunity to go south to Atlanta".

The event was also held to draw exposure and support to the plan for rail passenger service between Salisbury and Asheville. Members of the Western North Carolina Rail Committee, CAPT, and various other interests were also there to show support.

The Federal Railroad Administration is expected to announce selections for its Corridor ID Program in November. The Asheville route has been submitted, along with Raleigh to Wilmington, and a number of others. Selection would mean a grant of 500 thousand dollars to start planning on the designated corridor(s).

POSSIBLE MIDWEST TO CAROLINAS AMTRAK ROUTE IS UNDER STUDY -- The Amtrak Long Distance Study being conducted by the Federal Railroad Administration is taking a look at a possible new route from the Midwest to the Carolinas. The proposal envisions a route from Cincinnati to Knoxville, and east to Asheville, N.C. From Asheville three routes are suggested to reach the Carolinas coastal areas. One route is through Spartanburg and Columbia to Charleston, another through Statesville, Charlotte and Hamlet ending in Wilmington, and a route through Winston-Salem, Greensboro, and Durham ending at Raleigh. With the Raleigh route new state-supported service between Wilmington and Raleigh would provide connections to and from the coastal areas.

The idea was presented at the Rail Passengers Association (RPA) "Rail Nation" event in Meridian, Mississippi, by Carolinas Association for Passenger Trains (CAPT) President Martin Wheeler. RPA is providing assistance to FRA in the multi-year planning process.

The Amtrak Long Distance Study is designed to expand the inter-connected rail passenger network across the United States. FRA Administrator Amit Bose says “these are early steps in enhancing the long distance network.” Comprehensive planning begins after route selections are determined in early 2024. FRA Inter-City Planner Frank Loetterle says the agency has significant power over use of existing and preserved rail rights of way if routes are to be pursued in future years.

NEW PASSENGER SERVICE TO SOUTH CENTRAL STATES - As result of the merger of Canadian Pacific and Kansas City Southern several new passenger rail services are coming within the next few years. As part of the merger agreement CPKC has agreed to a new Amtrak route between Meridian, Mississippi and Dallas, Texas. This would be accomplished through establishing two sections of the Amtrak "Crescent" west of Meridian. One section would serve Dallas, and the other would serve New Orleans. At RPA's Rail Nation earlier this month Amtrak indicated this service, and a New Orleans to Baton Rouge route would be coming expeditiously.

Additionally, the New Orleans to Mobile passenger rail service is coming closer. NEW CSX President and CEO Joe Hinrichs is showing favorable inclinations toward a softening of the company's stand on resisting passenger rail initiatives such as the New Orleans-Mobile, and expansions on former Pan Am rail lines in Massachusetts now owned by CSX.

Amtrak and Union Pacific are now before the Surface Transportation Board due to Amtrak's claim of continual poor on time performance of its "Sunset" service between Los Angeles and New Orleans handled by UP.

AMTRAK RESTORING TRAIN CARS IN PREPARATION FOR INCREASED RIDERSHIP -- Amtrak's Vice-President of the Long Distance Service Line says 63 passenger cars out of service will be restored and returned to service by the end of Fiscal Year 2024. The majority of the cars are Superliners and Viewliners.

Larry Chestler also indicates 29 shorter haul cars will also be restored. Those include Horizon and Amfleet 1 cars. 8 Diners should return by the end of 2023, and 4 more expected to return in 2024. Chestler says a "refresh" of the Superliner fleet of 391 cars is 50 percent complete. Those cars include coaches, diners, and sleepers.

In other news, Chestler says average on time performance for Amtrak long distance trains is at 52 percent, with no train exceeding OTP of 80 percent. He says 3.9 million passengers rode long distance trains in Fiscal Year 2023. Also, long distance revenue reached 575 million dollars, the largest in Amtrak history.

Meanwhile, Amtrak is looking at ridership doubling by 2045 from 32 to 64 million passengers per year. Anna Lynn Smith, Vice-President of Strategy and Planning, also indicates operations should be net zero for emissions by 2045.

PROGRESS CONTINUES ON RESTORING TRADITIONAL DINING - The goal of restoring traditional dining on Amtrak Long Distance trains is continuing. Recent additions to restored service include the Silver Meteor and the Silver Star. The Crescent and City of New Orleans may have to wait a while due to equipment and crew services issues. A report was presented at RPA's Rail Nation in early October. Link above will take you to the news update, and background material on the Food and Beverage Working Group.

SALUDA GRADE DEVELOPMENTS – Two regional meetings have been held to update environmental coalition plans to convert 31 miles of Norfolk Southern's Saluda grade rail line between Inman, SC, and Zirconia, NC. 15 million dollars has been approved by South Carolina for purchase, and 16 million dollars approved in North Carolina.

Unlike the South Carolina legislation, North Carolina legislation contains provisions for study of possible joint rail and trail uses between Tryon and Zirconia. A regional council in NC will be created to consider all the options.

The trail coalition is expected to have more public meetings next May when significant comprehensive planning is completed on the project. Regardless of what is eventually decided, the entire corridor will be protected for possible future rail use under the federal Rails to Trails law created in the early 1980's.

North Carolina legislation appears below:


SECTION 14.5.(a) Findings and Purpose. – The General Assembly finds that the Saluda Grade Railroad was constructed in the 1870s to link Spartanburg, South Carolina, to Asheville, North Carolina, and holds a special place in American rail history as the steepest standard-gauge mainline railroad in the United States, located where the line crosses the dramatic Blue Ridge Escarpment.

The General Assembly further finds that the 31-mile portion of the Railroad proposed for acquisition stretches from Inman, SC, to Zirconia, NC, with 16 miles in South Carolina and 15 miles in North Carolina, and would pass through downtown Inman, Gramling, Campobello, Landrum, Tryon, and Saluda, as well as the picturesque Piedmont countryside, the Pacolet River valley with its plunging waterfalls, and the spectacular scenery around the Green River and Lake Summit.

The purpose of this section is to take advantage of an unprecedented opportunity for the citizens of North Carolina to celebrate 2023 as the Year of the Trail and enhance the reputation of North Carolina as the Great Trails State by acquiring the Saluda Grade rail corridor for conversion into the Saluda Grade Trail.

SECTION 14.5.(b) Definition. – For purposes of this section, the Saluda Grade rail corridor means the portion of the Norfolk Southern W-Line railroad between milepost 26 in the unincorporated community of Zirconia in Henderson County and the boundary between North Carolina and South Carolina.

SECTION 14.5.(c) Funding. – Notwithstanding any other provision of law or the Committee Report referenced in Section 43.2 of this act to the contrary, funds appropriated in this act from the projected interest in the State Fiscal Recovery Reserve shall be increased by six million dollars ($6,000,000) in the 2023-2024 fiscal year, and eleven million dollars ($11,000,000) in the 2024-2025 fiscal year.

These funds shall be transferred to the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources to provide grants in each year of the biennium to Polk County Community Foundation, Inc., a nonprofit corporation (Foundation), to be allocated in the following amounts and for the following purposes:

(1)      $5,000,000 in the 2023-2024 fiscal year and $11,000,000 in the 2024-2025 fiscal year for the purchase of the Saluda Grade rail corridor in Henderson and Polk Counties and related transaction costs.

(2)      $450,000 in the 2023-2024 fiscal year to conduct an assessment, conceptual design and preliminary engineering of the Saluda Grade rail corridor.

(3)      $550,000 in the 2023-2024 fiscal year to study the potential of a multi-purpose active tourism rail and hiking corridor from the City of Hendersonville to either the Town of Tryon or the Town of Saluda, and if such a multi-purpose active tourism rail and hiking corridor is determined to be feasible, to develop a conceptual plan and preliminary engineering for its implementation.

SECTION 14.5.(d) Council Established. – The Foundation shall establish a Saluda Grade Conservation Council to oversee the disbursement of funds provided by this section to the Foundation as provided in this subsection:

(1)      Membership. – The Council shall include two members appointed by the General Assembly, upon recommendation of the Speaker of the House of Representatives in accordance with G.S. 120-121, two by the General Assembly, upon recommendation of the President Pro Tempore of the Senate in accordance with G.S. 120-121, one member of the Polk County Board of Commissioners, elected by that body, one member of the Henderson County Board of Commissioners, elected by that body, one member of the City of Saluda Board of Commissioners, elected by that body, and one member of the Town of Tryon Board of Commissioners, elected by that body. The Chair of the board of the Saluda Historic Depot and Museum Board or the Chair's designee shall serve as an ex officio member of the Council and shall vote only in the case of a tie.

(2)      Disbursement of Funds. – The Foundation will disburse funds allocated by subdivision (c)(1) of this section at the direction of the Council, and the Council shall cease to exist when the funds allocated by this section have been disbursed and all reports, audits, and other documentation required by the State Budget Act (Chapter 143C of the General Statues) have been submitted. Funds allocated by subdivisions (c)(2) and (c)(3) of this section may be disbursed directly by the Foundation prior to the appointment of the Council.

SECTION 14.5.(e) Memorandum of Understanding. – No later than September 1, 2023, the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources shall enter into a Memorandum of Understanding with the Foundation regarding the long-term ownership structure, management, and improvement of the rail corridor. The Memorandum shall provide, at a minimum, the following:

(1)      That not later than July 1, 2027, the corridor will be conveyed to the State to be added to the State Trail system.

(2)      That the conveyance and other provisions of the Memorandum are structured to ensure that the acquisition of the rail corridor and the conversion to an interim use as a State trail is consistent with the requirements of federal law necessary to preserve established railroad rights-of-way for future activation of rail service as set forth in the railbanking provisions of the National Trails System Act Amendments of 1983.

SECTION 14.5.(f) Report. – The Foundation shall provide an interim report no later than March 1, 2024, and a final report no later than October 1, 2025, to the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Agriculture and Natural and Economic Resources, and the Fiscal Research Division regarding the acquisition of and improvements to the Saluda Grade rail corridor funded by this act. The Department shall include a summary of its actions to promote and support the establishment of the Saluda Grade Trail as a part of the report required by G.S. 143B-135.102.

SECTION 14.5.(g) Authorization. – Upon completion of the acquisition of the Saluda Grade rail corridor funded by this act, the General Assembly authorizes the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources to add the trail established on the Saluda Grade rail corridor to the State Parks System as a State trail, as provided in G.S. 143B-135.54(b).

The Department shall support, promote, encourage, and facilitate the establishment of trail segments and connecting trails on State parklands and on lands of other federal, State, local, and private landowners. On segments of the trail that cross property controlled by agencies or owners other than the Department's Division of Parks and Recreation, the laws, rules, and policies of those agencies or owners shall govern the use of the property.

The requirement of G.S. 143B-135.54(b) that additions be accompanied by adequate appropriations for land acquisition, development, and operations shall not apply to the authorization set forth in this section; provided, however, that the State may receive donations of appropriate land and may purchase other needed lands or finance improvements and amenities for the trail with existing funds in the Clean Water Management Trust Fund, the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund, the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, and other available sources of funding.

CAPT OFFICIALS ATTEND PASSENGER RAIL KICK-OFF MEETING — CAPT President Martin Wheeler accompanied CAPT Board Member Tommy Thomas to the first Passenger Rail Symposium held at the Historic Burgaw Depot in Pender County on Tuesday, October 24. This initiative will include future meetings at towns along what is hoped to be the restored Raleigh-to-Wilmington passenger line that last saw Atlantic Coast Line trains in 1968.

The Burgaw Depot is the oldest in North Carolina, but the tracks along the 26-mile segment from Wallace to Castle Hayne were removed in 1986, leaving an eventually refurbished Depot as largely a meeting, entertainment, and event venue.

Attendees were welcomed by Steve Unger and Gene Merritt, founders of Eastern Carolina Rail, a non-profit designed to bolster support for restoration of the historic route that first moved passengers in 1840. Wheeler offered remarks about CAPT's mission and goals, and Thomas (a Burgaw native) described the process by which the State obtained ownership of the W2CH corridor, once a part of the 161-mile long Wilmington & Weldon Railroad.

There followed some remarks by an NCDOT Rail Division official, and a presentation by Unger highlighting all the potential stops between Wilmington and Raleigh.

A lively Q-and-A followed -- you can imagine the differing views from locals concerning the return of trains (passenger and freight) to a small town that hasn't seen them in almost 40 years! But there seemed to be a strong core of support despite the concerns raised about blocked street crossings and any changes that may have to be made to the Depot's interior to accommodate being an actual train station again.

The next Symposium is scheduled for Wallace in a few weeks; it also has a viable refurbished Depot and a rich rail history. Let's hope future meetings are also well-attended and successful as they make their way north up the old W&W!

Tommy Thomas, Board of Directors
Carolinas Association for Passenger Trains

FREIGHT LINE TRACKS AVAILABLE FOR PASSENGER SERVICE? -- There may be softening in Norfolk Southern Railroad's position on refusing to talk with Charlotte on use of its Charlotte-Mooresville freight line for commuter/regional rail service. Recent correspondence indicates talks may happen. The proposal has been stalled for about 15 years due to NS resistance. Included are links from media coverage. Please note there are references in the Channel 9 report to the line "would be light rail,” which is incorrect. Commuter or regional rail are the more appropriate terms.

ANNUAL MEETING DATE SET – The Carolinas Association for Passenger Trains (CAPT) will meet in Raleigh, North Carolina, on Saturday, November 18, from 2-5 p.m., at the Raleigh Union Station, Amtrak meeting room.

Eight board posioons are open, as are five offices – president, vice president-North Carolina, vice president-South Carolina, treasurer, and secretary. Persons interested in being elected to any of the above positions need to contact

Check your emails for more details.

NORTH CAROLINA SEAT OPEN TO VOLUNTARY ADVOCACY GROUP -- The Rail Passengers Association (RPA) is recruiting one individual from the Tar Heel State to join Dr. David Robinson as a member of the RPA’s Council of Representatives. Dr. Robinson, who also is the North Carolina vice president for the Carolinas Association for Passenger Trains, encourages one of the state’s 225 RPA members to join him on RPA’s national volunteer body. We are now accepting candidates wishing to be elected to the Council as State Representatives for the two-year term ending February 28, 2026, the RPA says. (Click above sentence to learn more.)

The application submission deadline is 11:59 PM Eastern time on Friday, December 1, 2023.

Any Rail Passengers Association member who meets the qualifications (see Position Description below) may apply for a State Representative seat on the Council of Representatives. Before applying, it’s highly recommended that you review these position responsibilities and qualifications:

Please note that current State Representatives must also submit a Candidate Information Statement by the December 1 deadline in order to seek re-election.

Jim Frierson, South Carolina vice president to the Carolinas Association for Passenger Trains, also serves on RPA’s council of representatives.

GREETINGS BILL COLE – CAPT extends greetings to one of our own members and to one of the original NC Train Hosts, Bill Cole. Now living at Aldersgate Senior Living Center in Charlotte, Mr. Cole would enjoy hearing from passenger rail friends via email, letters, and cards. Name the issue – the Carolina Panthers, North Carolina Department of Transportation, the train host program, or something more personal -- contact Bill at 3800 Shamrock Dr., Charlotte, NC 28215. His email is

Northbound Carolinian passengers being funneled from temporary State Fair Station (NSF) to the Hillsborough Street crossing under supervision of State Highway Patrol.

TAX DEDUCTIBLE CONTRIBUTIONS – “CAPT's 501(c)(3) tax exempt status under the Internal Revenue Code has been restored effective May 29, 2023. Contributions going forward will be tax deductible. Also, it will be much easier to apply for grants to further our efforts in addition to being more involved in social media. The recent information campaign on the Piedmont train schedule changes indicates how effective these efforts can be in furthering our goals,” President Martin Wheeler said.