FROM THE CAB - August 2021

By Martin Wheeler, President, CAPT

NEW VISION FOR AMTRAK – More passenger rail service for residents of North and South Carolina is included in Amtrak’s 15-Year Vision, announced earlier this year. As has been the case since Amtrak’s founding on May 1, 1971, support from the administration, Congress, local communities, states, and other stakeholders is necessary to bring more passenger rail service to the estimated 17.7 million people living in our two states.

In a late May letter to members of Congress, Amtrak asked for help in four areas connected with improving and expanding rail passenger service:

  • Create a Corridor Development Program
  • Provide Dedicated, Predictable, and Sufficient Funding
  • Stop Freight Trains from Unlawfully Delaying Passengers
  • Ensure Fair Access to Host Railroads for New Service and Adding Trains

Amtrak’s vision for the Southeastern Corridor is described in detail in a 76-page Amtrak Corridor Vision publication.

Southeastern Corridors’ development plans are found on pages 62-69. Of particular interest to citizens of North and South Carolina will be these routes:

Richmond/Norfolk/Newport News
New York – Washington – Richmond – Newport News/Norfolk/North Carolina

  • New NEC – Washington – Richmond – Raleigh/Charlotte services overlays with 6 round trips

Carolinian and Piedmont
New York – Washington – Richmond – Raleigh - Charlotte

  • “Expand the number of daily round trips between Charlotte, NC – Raleigh, NC – Richmond – New York City from one Carolinian trip daily to multiple frequencies throughout the day.”
  • “Expand the number of Piedmont daily round trips between Charlotte – Raleigh.”

Meanwhile, progress continues with reactivating a direct rail route between Raleigh and Petersburg, VA near Richmond, VA (the “S Line) – a joint effort by the Southeast Corridor Commission and the North Carolina Department of Transportation, the Amtrak Corridor Vision report says.

Western NC
Asheville – Salisbury

  • “New service between Asheville, NC – Salisbury, NC (connection to Southeast Corridor service and Charlotte – Raleigh services)”

Southeast NC
Wilmington – Raleigh

  • “New service between Wilmington, NC – Raleigh (connection to Southeast Corridor service and Charlotte – Raleigh services)”

Atlanta – Charlotte Service
Atlanta – Charlotte

  • “3 round trips between Atlanta – Charlotte”
  • “Extend 2 Atlanta – Charlotte round trips to Raleigh, NC as part of Piedmont service”
  • “Augmented by Amtrak’s Crescent

Atlanta Hub
Atlanta – Charlotte/Nashville/Montgomery/Birmingham/Savannah

  • “3 round trips between Atlanta – Macon – Savannah”
  • “Atlanta – Charlotte (described previously)”

Florida Network
Jacksonville – Orlando – Tampa – Miami

  • Augmented by Amtrak’s Silver Service

Amtrak Corridor Vision describes plans for four other corridors – Western Corridors (pgs. 37-41); Central Corridors (pgs. 42-45); Midwestern Corridors (pgs. 46-53), and the NE Corridors (pgs. 54-61).

Once implemented nationwide, Amtrak’s 15-year vision would:

  • Add service to 160 new communities, large and small, while retaining the existing Amtrak network serving over 525 locations.
  • Provide intercity passenger rail service to the 50 largest metropolitan areas (by population).
  • Serve 47 of the 48 contiguous states, expanding corridor passenger rail service in 20 states and bringing new corridor passenger rail service to 16 states.
  • Add 39 new routes and enhance 25 routes.
  • Introduce new stations in over half of U.S. states.
  • Expand or improve rail service for 20 million more riders annually – which would double the amount that the state-supported routes carried in fiscal year (FY) 2019. *
  • Provides $800 million in total Amtrak revenue growth versus FY 2019.

*Amtrak’s fiscal year runs from October through September.

Amtrak’s Corridor Vision has eight chapters, including an Executive Summary (starting on pg. 4); an Introduction (pg. 8) The Challenge Expansion Will Address (pg. 13); The Solution is Passenger Rail (pg. 20); The Right Condition for Expansion (pg. 24); Analysis for Supporting Service Expansion (pg. 33); Implementation (pg. 70), and Conclusion (pgs. 73). Amtrak’s Route Identification Methodology is found in the Appendix (pg. 74).

When sharing the above information, please give credit to Amtrak, which has made this story possible.

AMTRAK STATION IN LEXINGTON, N.C. -- A Lexington, N.C., Amtrak station could be a reality within 5 years. Final design plans are being developed for the transportation facility which would also include restaurants and office space in the town's Depot District. Mayor Newell Clark says street and pedestrian improvements and some rail line construction will start before year's end. The $25 million project is a four-party cooperative venture (the City of Lexington; NC Railroad; NC Department of Transportation - Rail Division, and Norfolk Southern).

THANK YOU, DONORS -- Nine of 52 members of the Carolina Association for Passenger Trains (CAPT) have made donations this year beyond annual dues. Donors are Bob Bischoff, Capt. Phillip Bush, George Dolan, Ralph Forbes, Rafe Royle, Harmon Shay, Bernard Silverman, Don Stewart, and Lind Yutzy. Thank you for your financial support.

MEMBERSHIP CLIMBS TO 52 -- Since March, CAPT membership has grown from 37 to 52 members. Thirty-one members hail from North Carolina, while nine are from neighboring South Carolina. Twelve members live outside of the Carolinas. Two $100 corporate memberships are included. (A standard membership costs $25, while seniors and students may join CAPT for $15.)

NORTH CHARLESTON SITE OF IN-PERSON BOARD MEETING -- An in-person CAPT board meeting was held on Saturday, July 17, at Amtrak’s North Charleston Station. Fourteen people participated, including a few by zoom.

NEW BOARD MEMBERS SOUGHT – CAPT is seeking one passenger rail advocate from North Carolina to serve a two- year term on our board. Current board members are Phil Astwood (secretary); Robert C. Bischoff; John Bobinyec; Bill Cole; Jim Frierson; Ed Locklin; Gayle McCurry; Ralph Messera (treasurer); David Robinson (VP-NC); Martin Wheeler (president), and Don Yehle (VP-SC). Officers are directors who are elected for one-year terms by the board.

RAIL SAFETY PUBLIC AWARENESS CAMPAIGN – South Carolina is benefitting from competitive rail safety awareness grants awarded by the Federal Railroad Administration to Operation Lifesaver, Inc. (OLI). “South Carolina’s project will share rail safety education with students, faculty and staff on college campuses, teaching them about the inherent dangers of crossing railroad tracks whether driving, biking, or walking.

“The campaign includes ads on audience-based digital platforms including Facebook, Snapchat, and Tik Tok and includes airing rail safety PSA at 12 DMV offices across the state during the month of September as well as conducting personal outreach to colleges and universities,” the Operation Lifesaver, Inc. news release said.

RAILNATION: DC 2021 – FALL ADVOCACY CONFERENCE – Registrations are being accepted by the Rail Passengers Association (RPA) for its annual Fall Advocacy Conference in Alexandria, VA. The meeting starts Sunday, September 19, continuing through Wednesday, September 22. The Embassy Suites by Hilton hotel is the site for this fall’s meeting. An RPA board of directors meeting (open to all) is on Sunday night, with a Council of Representatives meeting concluding the conference on Wednesday. In your browser, enter Rail Passengers Association for details.

GOMACO STREETCARS – Three Gomaco Streetcars are headed to Memphis for waterfront use. Once owned by Charlotte Area Transit System, the streetcars left Charlotte in early August for the “Home of the Blues.”

AMTRAK DINING REIMAGINED – Amtrak trains in the Western United States once again have traditional dining, with white linen tablecloths, cutlery, and glassware in the dining car. A three-course dinner returns, prepared by a chef, who will prepare breakfast and lunch, as well. While coach passengers won’t have access to the dining cars, the Café menu is to be updated, with a few more fresh selections and a greater variety of beverages, snacks, and meals, reports say.

INFRASTRUCTURE BILL – The U.S. Senate has passed a trillion-dollar infrastructure bill that includes billions of dollars for passenger rail. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she’ll block the measure unless a multi-trillion-dollar reconciliation bill on “social infrastructure” is simultaneously approved by both branches of Congress. The House is on recess until early September. The hopes for some expanded passenger rail as described earlier in this newsletter hangs in the balance.