FROM THE CAB - April 2023

By Martin Wheeler, President, Carolinas Association for Passenger Trains

Bad to Worse for CATS in Charlotte
The Charlotte Area Transit System continues to languish in a morass that is being termed as “criminal” in connection with it’s operation and maintenance. While rail and bus operations are affected, most of the headlines continue to be on the light rail side. Note two recent media articles that shed much depth on the extensive nature of the problem.

Meanwhile, life does go on so CATS is making plans for construction of a new bus transfer underground as part of a planned high rise on the site of the current bus transportation center on East Trade Street. The CTC light rail station nearby will also allow for connections for rail passengers to the bus operations and vice versa. The CTC and 3rd Street light rail stations will be expanded to 3 car lengths at the same time all the construction is going on. 2.1 million dollars has been budgeted for the platform extensions during Fiscal Year 2024.

The Charlotte Gateway Center master development plan is nearing completion now that the decision has been made on how the proposed Silver Line light rail will enter the planned facility. It’s suggested it might be ready by May or June. Completion of the terminal which will put Amtrak, light rail, streetcar, and bus operations in one multi-modal transportation center on West Trade Street is projected for completion in 2026.

Other CATS news highlights are as follows:
The local half-cent transit tax in Mecklenburg is projected to produce 150 million dollars in Fiscal Year 2024...........A significant increase over the next two years to increase safety and security on CATS trains, buses, and stations. Annual budget for armed and unarmed security officers will go from 7 to 14 million dollars ............ CATS is planning an increase of 10 million dollars in the yearly non-capital preventative maintenance budget for light rail..........Light rail car truck repairs for 42 cars will cost 30 million dollars. This involves a wheel bearing defect uncovered recently from a derailment which occurred last May and notification by CATS was missed by Charlotte City Manager Marcus Jones ...........Mid-life 15 year renewal for the oldest 20 light rail cars will cost another 13.6 million dollars.....A number of light rail bridge and structure inspections have been missed, and interim CATS CEO Brent Cagle has ordered immediate action.

CAPT says creation of a “Capital Cities “ train between Columbia and Raleigh could be accomplished by extension of Piedmont trains -- CAPT has worked up a plan for additional service in South Carolina between Columbia and Charlotte. A new route map and proposed schedules have been produced and will be shared with state and local interests along the proposed corridor, and to respective Departments of Transportation in North Carolina and South Carolina. View the proposal at the following link: Capital Cities Proposal

Meanwhile, an additional frequency for the Piedmont service between Charlotte and Raleigh is now expected in July.


LANDRUM, S.C. — Norfolk Southern has agreed to sell 31 miles of right-of-way for its dormant Saluda Grade — formerly the steepest main line in America — to the Saluda Grade Trail Conservancy for conversion to a trail, the Spartanburg Post and Courier reports.

Three non-profit groups — Conserving Carolina, Upstate Forever, and PAL: Play, Advocate, Live Well — said last year they were negotiating to purchase the line, which last saw a through train in December 2001 [see “Groups seek to buy Saluda Grade ...,” Trains News Wire, July 22, 2022].

PAL Executive Director Laura Ringo told the newspaper the conservancy has signed a written agreement that outlines the price and terms of sale, “none of which can be disclosed based on a confidentiality agreement.” The conservancy signed the agreement Feb. 3, while NS signed on Feb. 7.

“NS should have taken another approach working with the states on a more comprehensive and beneficial solution to disposition of their (Saluda Grade) line,” says Martin Wheeler, president, Carolinas Association for Passenger Trains.

The 31-mile route includes 16 miles in South Carolina and 15 in North Carolina. The South Carolina legislature has earmarked $5 million for the project. Ringo said next steps include continued fundraising and an economic impact and feasibility study, along with the pursuit of additional state and federal funding.

Bob Briggs, mayor of Landrum, S.C., one of the communities on the route, said fundraising will likely take two years, and creation of the trail is still three to five years away. The Saluda Grade, which included a 4.7% incline with a brief stretch of 5.1% grade, first saw rail service in 1878 and was considered the nation’s most dangerous stretch of mainline railroad. Following its closure, part of the route was sold to Watco, which operates it as part of its Blue Ridge Southern Railroad.


“We would think a rail line with excursions from Greenville-Spartanburg to Asheville and the Biltmore House, and other attractions along the line would bring a far more significant impact to economic development and tourism than the proposed trail.

“This corridor is a potential vital future transportation resource which would go away forever if the environmental coalition gets control of the right of way without restrictions.

“Rail to Trails legislation was designed to retain those future transportation options, not take them away. The Carolinas Association for Passenger Trains' main goal is to foster additional rail passenger services in the two states and retain future rail options.

“The association believes Norfolk Southern should write restrictions into the sale agreement preventing the environmental coalition from blocking any future reactivation of rail on the line. Seems like the states of North Carolina and South Carolina would be better stewards of such an important resource, and not a coalition only concerned with their own limited agenda.

"CAPT strongly recommends that the final sales agreement and trail plan should not preclude future comparable passenger and freight service, and any federal or state grants secured for the trail would be tied to the future rail allowance provision as a condition for obtaining the grants. Regardless of future ownership rail use should be incorporated as part of their final purchase agreement and long range plan."


Starting this fall, Orlando will be connected with five other existing Florida train stations – Miami, Aventura, Fort Lauderdale, Boca Raton, and West Palm Beach.

In its announcement, Brightline describes itself as “more than a train service.”

“(We’re) part of a real estate vision to reenergize static neighborhoods with transportation hubs including modern stations and 27+ acres of office, retail, residential and commercial space.

“Brightline’s new South Terminal at the Orlando International Airport (MCO) is a part of the company’s Phase 2 expansion into Central Florida including a Tampa extension. The massive infrastructure project is making progress and encompasses four zones including the area of the Orlando International Airport and the Brightline Vehicle Maintenance Facility. “This monumental endeavor, which will use 225 million pounds of American steel, will include the laying of 490,000 ties and transporting 2.35 million tons of granite and limestone by 20,000 railcars.

“Additionally, approximately 2 million spikes and bolts will be hammered and put in place over the next 36 months.”

Commenting on Brightline’s expansion, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said “The City of Orlando is excited to welcome Brightline to Central Florida. This new higher speed rail service will serve as an important connector between south and central Florida as we continue to expand our transit options and work to ensure reliable transportation is available for everyone Who wants to live, work, or visit Orlando.”

Click on these links to learn more about our station experience and onboard experience.


HighSpeedRail.US is the new website of the High Speed Rail Alliance. In making its announcement, Executive Director Richard Harnish said “We designed it for advocates and local leaders who need answers to targeted questions – and for general audiences that want to know more about trains.”

The Infrastructure Investment and Job Act is providing a momentous opportunity for states (including South and North Carolina), so that Congress expands it in the next cycle,” Harnish said. It’s hoped the new website will help engage mayors, committed (rail) advocates, local business people, and other leaders “who want fast trains serving their community.”


As of February 28, membership in the Carolina Association for Passenger Trains has increased to 68, up from 39 in 2022 and 48 in 2021. Forty-eight members hail from North Carolina; 10 from neighboring South Carolina, and 10 others from outside of the Carolinas.

The organization’s cash balance was $4,366.86 at the end of February, versus $2,614.22 at the end of 2022. CAPT’s board appreciates this strong support.

Meanwhile, CAPT continues to seek a new secretary. The position has been vacant since January.

Editor’s Note: Restoration of the Floridian, connecting Savannah with Atlanta, Chicago, and Florida, is being advocated by the Rail Users’ Network (RUN). See letter below.

March 14, 2023

To: Members of the Federal Railroad Administration's Amtrak Daily Long-Distance Service Study Committee

The following statement was composed by the Board of Directors of the Rail Users' Network, which is one of the two national organizations that represents Long-Distance train riders here in the United States. (The National Association for Passenger Trains – RPA – is the other organization passenger train advocate.)

While we had hoped to have participated directly in the on - going discussions, the following is a statement to the FRA's request for engagement.

We recognize, through years (actually decades) of study that all modes of transportation are needed for commerce to flourish. Thus, it is further recognized that such free-flowing commerce generates the vitality that makes this country the economic super-power that it is. We agree with the FRA that passenger rail must also be recognized for the potential to maximize the return for investment in this very important, yet severely underutilized mode of transportation.

As indicated in your proposal to evaluate passenger rail's long-distance service routes, we state the obvious, as it applies to any other form of transportation. For passenger rail to be successful, it needs to provide reliable, timely, and convenient service. As with any other mode, these points are defined as:

  • Reliable - consistently good in quality or performance; able to be trusted.
  • Timely - fast enough to encourage its use.
  • Convenient - operating with enough schedules to make it a serious alternative.
  • Long-distance routes also provide for shorter segments as state- supported routes. (The Piedmont and the Carolinian are examples of state-supported routes.)

We believe these points also include, through extraction, the concept of a true system of interconnected passenger rail routes as suggested by this FRA study to restore those routes which once existed. Such a system of connections, once created, would generate a huge increase in ridership by virtue of restoring dozens of stations, creating hundreds of new origins and destinations within the system. To that end, the following should be considered the minimum for current and any restored routes:

All routes must provide for daily service in both directions along the route including the current Cardinal and Sunset Limited.

--A minimum of two trains, each leaving the endpoints of that route to provide two-directional service. This would allow for increased business travel between cities, especially where air or highway modes are either inconvenient or impractical.

--Close examination should consider that restoring routes that once existed would provide increased flexibility, should any one route suffer from harm due to manmade or natural mishap. For this reason, any connections that once existed, such as were once deemed necessary by STRACNET, be restored as well. (Stracnet is defined on Google as a strategic rail corridor network – both interconnected and continuous -- consisting of over 36,000 miles of track serving over 120 defense installations.)

This increased flexibility would allow for nearly seamless reroutes without unnecessary delays in service

--Newly restored routes should fill in those severe gaps in the national system.

Passenger rail advocates in each state and region have studied potential new, restored, or enhanced routes and, like us, should be considered good sources for such information. There are many routes in need of service, including the following high priority routes which have great potential to maximize investment in their restoration:

  1. The Floridian from Chicago to Atlanta, Savannah, and Florida.
  2. The Broadway Limited from New York to Chicago.
  3. The Pioneer from Salt Lake City through Boise, ID or Denver to Portland, OR and Seattle.
  4. The Desert Wind from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles.
  5. The North Coast Hiawatha from Chicago to Seattle and serving Montana's larger cities.The Rocky Mountain Flyer, connecting El Paso, Albuquerque, Denver, Casper and Helena, MT to Shelby, MT.
  6. Heartland Flyer extension linking San Antonio and Oklahoma City to Minneapolis via Kansas City.

These seven additional routes, while not an all-inclusive list, would help to create more of a true system of passenger rail routes. These new connections would make possible not just ridership on the named routes, but increased ridership on the system as a whole. And, as stated above, these new routes would also make it possible for states or regions to create and operate their own state-supported services. These “feeder” services would funnel even more riders into the national system.

RUN appreciates and thanks you for the opportunity to provide much-needed input for your study.


Richard Rudolph, Ph.D., Chairman, Rail Users' Network
211 Ocean Ave., Portland, Maine 04103

Rail Users' Network, Inc. | RUN