FROM THE CAB - December 2021

By Martin Wheeler, President

PASSENGER TRAIN ASSOCIATION LEAVES STATION -- With 2021 waning, it’s worthwhile to look back at progress made to boost passenger rail in the Carolinas. Here are a few highlights:

  • Federal grants were issued to the State of North Carolina to purchase CSX track between Raleigh and Ridgeway as part of the Raleigh to Richmond high speed rail plan. Two other grants are to fund the purchase of six locomotives and 21 passenger cars for the state’s Raleigh to Charlotte corridor. (From the Cab, January 2021)

  • The Charlotte Area Transit System unveiled a draft, final alignment for the multibillion-dollar Silver Line light rail project. The light rail line would stretch 30 miles between Belmont and Indian Trail, linking both areas with center-city Charlotte at the new Gateway Multi-modal Transportation Center. The line would also serve Charlotte Douglas International Airport and Matthews. (From the Cab, February 2021)

  • A proposed new sales tax would help fund the Silver Line light rail project along with other rail priorities, which include the Red Line commuter rail project between Charlotte and Mount Mourne in Iredell County, and the Blue Line light rail extension between Pineville and Ballantyne. (From the Cab, February 2021)

  • Integrated Systems Testing has begun in Charlotte on new CityLYNX Gold Line modern streetcars. During overnight hours, the project team is certifying platform and pantograph clearances. This will allow for any adjustments to the Overhead Catenary System (OCS) wire, while also ensuring electrical systems are working properly. Streetcars could go into operation as early as May. (From the Cab, February 2021)

  • Norfolk Southern (NS) has notified the Federal Railroad Administration it plans to de-signal its S line through North Carolina between Asheville and Statesville. The line no longer carries any through freight. The section is part of the line the N.C. Department of Transportation has long been eyeing for resumption of rail passenger service between Salisbury and Asheville. NS would require a new signal and centralized traffic control system anyway if passenger service were to return. (From the Cab, March 2021)

  • Early next year, construction is expected to begin on a second platform at the Salisbury, North Carolina, Amtrak station. Three passenger trains – the Crescent, the Carolinian, and the Piedmont are served at this station. Estimated completion date is sometime in 2024. (From the Cab, March 2021)

  • The above-mentioned platform could mean expansion of freight and passenger services in Salisbury, improving accessibility to Raleigh, Greensboro, and Charlotte. The Historic Salisbury Foundation, which owns the 100-year-old station, and NCDOT are working together on the design, which is 25 percent complete. (From the Cab, March 2021)

  • Virginia’s General Assembly has passed legislation to expand Amtrak service at a cost of $167 million. Half of the money will go to adding a second regional train between Roanoke and Washington, while also studying an extension beyond Roanoke to Bedford and Bristol in the New River Valley. The other half of the money goes to expanding and improving Virginia Railway Express service between Washington and Manassas. (From the Cab, March 2021)

  • The NC Rail Division is moving ahead with purchase plans for new locomotives and passenger cars for the “Piedmont “ service. It’s expected by 2024 there will be enough passenger cars to make up one train set. By 2026 all the rest of the cars and locomotives should have arrived. The purchases are funded by two federal grants totalling 168 million dollars. The existing Piedmont equipment will be held as back up, and for any new service routes created. Thirteen former “Circus Coaches,” once owned by Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, will be auctioned off by the Rail Division. NCDOT says it takes time to find interested parties, agree on pricing, and terms and conditions for this unique rail equipment. (From the Cab, April 2021)

  • Freight trains do not travel at fixed times, and schedules for passenger trains often change. Always expect a train at each highway-rail intersection at any time. This was one of 10 key rail safety tips for drivers, pedestrians, and an an array of audiences offered by Operation Lifesaver, Inc., which has a mission to reduce deaths and injuries at highway-rail grade crossings and around railroad tracks and trains. (From the Cab, May 2021)

  • Passenger rail advocates should consider using the message below as an elevator speech when around transportation decision-makers, says Tod Bassler, editor of All Aboard Indiana.

    “Our transportation options in the USA have changed a lot over the last few centuries. While our country was built with the help of the railroad, today's options for getting around are much more limited. Our population has more than doubled since 1950 (now 332 million) and the automobile, a low-density transportation option, can no longer get the job done efficiently, especially in urban areas.

    “While the rest of the advanced industrial economies have invested in right sizing transportation options, we here in the USA have not. Traffic jams are now common on our roads and waste a lot of our precious, unrecoverable time. Adding more and expensive highway lanes does not solve the space problem. Will you help fix our country's transportation “jam” by supporting investment in improving passenger rail?” (From the Cab, June 2021)

  • Three CAPT board members did a zoom call with the Rail Passengers Association (RPA) on June 15 to discuss the feasibility of an economic impact study on the passenger rail corridor connecting Charlotte – Columbia – Charleston. Such a study would tell Carolinians how this rail corridor like other “rail corridors generate value by acting as economic engines in the communities they serve – through jobs, retail, mobility, tourism, and real estate development,” RPA says in its printed literature. (From the Cab, July)

  • Sean Jeans-Gail, the RPA’s vice president of policy and government affairs, talked with CAPT board members Jim Frierson, Columbia; Don Yehle, Bluffton, and me. Our long-desired passenger rail corridor was then separately discussed among RPA executives Jim Mathews, president, and CEO; Jonsie Stone, vice president of resource development and operations, and Jeans-Gail. Costs for a Social Economic Study would be $65,000; for a Research Note ($25,000); for a Fact Sheet ($10,000), and for Output Numbers ($5,000). (From the Cab, July)

  • 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 5/1/71, support from the administration, Congress, local communities, states, and other stakeholders is necessary to bring more passenger service to the estimated 17.7 million people living in our two states. (From the Cab, August)

  • Amtrak’s vision for the Southeastern Corridor is described in detail in a 76-page Amtrak Corridor Vision publication. Four areas to improve and expand rail passenger service are included. They are (1.) Create a corridor development program; (2.) Provide dedicated, predictable, and sufficient funding; (3.) Stop freight trains from unlawfully delaying passengers, and (4.) Ensure fair access to host railroads for new service and adding trains. These concerns were communicated to Congress in late May. (From the Cab, August)

  • The long-awaited launch of City LYNX Gold Line streetcar service began on Monday, August 30. The fare is free until January 2022, for the service which operates every 20 minutes from 5 a.m. to 2 a.m., seven days a week, in the Queen City. (From the Cab, September)

  • Gold Line streetcar service connects the Historic West End and the Elizabeth neighborhood through Uptown Charlotte. Five modern streetcars are operating off-wire through the heart of downtown, maintaining a catenary-free zone, says the Charlotte Area Transit System. (From the Cab, September)

  • Safety is a concern as individuals become more familiar with streetcars and as roadway and sidewalk work around the system is completed. Streetcars utilize horns and bells to communicate with pedestrians and motorists. Motorists should obey parking signage, while anyone walking, biking, or living near the streetcars must also become familiar with the rules of streetcar safety. Siemens’ hybrid technology is at work in this project. (From the Cab, September)

  • “The Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) is presenting an update and refinements in the Silver Line Light Rail planning process. Information about the proposed alignment, station refinements, implemention, and phasing of the proposed 29-mile light rail line is available at

    “Recent meetings are on the CATS YouTube page, as well as archived meetings from earlier in the planning process. Comment period for public input ends on November 3, 2021,” CAPTs has learned.

    Several most recent changes are: Moving the proposed Suttle Avenue station to West Morehead Street; adding additional stations at Summit Avenue and 11th Street in the Garden district east of the proposed station and interfacing with the existing Blue Line light rail line.

    Shifting the alignment along Monroe Rd. farther away from street right of way is proposed and would be phased. The Gateway Station to Matthews eastside segment opening around 2036 would cost $5.1 billion, while the Gateway Station to I-485 segment on the west side (which includes the airport) opening around 2040 is projected to cost $3.2 billion. Other segments require additional funding and planning efforts. (From the Cab, October)

  • The $1.2 Trillion Infrastructure bill recently passed by Congress is expected to funnel hundreds of the millions of dollars into Carolinas to improve rail and public transportation. 911 million dollars will be coming to North Carolina over 5 years, and 361 million dollars to South Carolina over the same period. In both states much of the money will be spent for projects already planned , and in the pipeline, but needing an infusion of money to get them going. The states will be working with regional and local planning authorities in the process. (From the Cab, November)

  • In North Carolina, the Infrastructure bill money could help speed planning and eventual construction of the proposed Triangle area commuter rail project between Durham and Clayton east of Raleigh. Proposed commuter rail in the Charlotte area between Charlotte and Mooresville may benefit if an agreement can be made with Norfolk Southern on use of it’s line. Other projects include new inter-city rail passenger service long planned for Raleigh to Wilmington, and Asheville to Salisbury. In South Carolina, much of the public transportation money would be spent on bus service as there are few rail projects on the planning boards. (From the Cab, November)

  • South and North Carolina may benefit from large amounts of money going directly to Amtrak which plans new routes and services across the country, some of which are proposed by 2035 and would be determined by a new created States Services Committee within Amtrak. Lines include restoring direct higher speed rail service between Richmond and Raleigh, and new service between Charlotte and Atlanta extending to Birmingham. Enhanced service is also proposed for the Silver Meteor and Silver Star which pass through the Carolinas. In total, Amtrak gets 66 billion dollars from the package. (From the Cab, November)

LEAVING THE STATION WITH ZOOM TECHNOLOGY -- Like many Americans, CAPT members are becoming proficient zoomers. Due to Covid-19, four of six 2021 board meetings (January, March, May, and December) were exclusively conducted with the assistance of the now popular zoom technology. Two meetings, Charleston (July) and Charlotte (September), were both in-person and remote.

Here are board activities and actions made in 2021:

  • TIRELESS WORKER RECOGNIZED -- Former CAPT board member Gene Kirkland received special recognition earlier this year. Mr. Kirkland served our organization as treasurer, newsletter editor, membership secretary, train host, and meeting representative. Gayle McCurry, of Cary, a frequent rail passenger, completed Gene’s board term for which the organization is most appreciative. CAPT, no longer a 501c3 non-profit, needs more people like Gene and Gayle.

  • DUES STRUCTURE CHANGES -- The newly-approved dues structure for OUR two-state, rail advocacy organization is Individual ($25), Student or Seniors (65+) ($15), and Corporate ($100). The “family” membership category was eliminated. To join, go to

  • LOCATIONS ANNOUNCED FOR 2022 BOARD MEETINGS – Zoom capability will allow CAPT members to participate remotely at the following six meetings in 2022, which will be in-person, as well. Those meeting locations and dates are: Columbia, January 15; Greensboro, March 19; Raleigh, May 21; Myrtle Beach, July 16; Fayetteville, September 17, and the annual membership meeting in Charlotte, November 19.

  • NEW OFFICERS AND BOARD MEMBERS ELECTED – At the December 4 “remote” membership meeting, the Carolinas Association for Passenger Trains (CAPT) re-elected four new officers, a new vice president for South Carolina, and re-elected seven board members. Columbia’s Jim Frierson returns as SC vice president after a year’s absence. Four individuals continue as CAPT officers, including Martin Wheeler, president; David Robinson, NC vice president; Phil Astwood, secretary, and Ralph Messera, treasurer. All officers will serve one-year terms through November 2022.

    Seven individuals re-elected to two-year terms on the CAPT board are (in alphabetic order): Phil Astwood, John Bobinyec, Bill Cole, Jim Frierson, Ralph Messera, Martin Wheeler, and Don Yehle. Their terms begin immediately, and expire in November 2023. Three other individuals – Robert Bischoff, Ed Locklin, and David Robinson – have one more year left on their two-year terms, which expire in November 2022. By- laws require 12 directors; there are presently 10 directors serving the organization.

Email if you’re interested in running for a two-year term to the board of directors of the Carolina Association for Passenger Trains.