From The Cab - December 2023
By Martin Wheeler, President, Carolinas Association for Passenger Trains
with assistance from Don Yehle, CAPT Board Member and Editor
$3.5 MILLION IN FEDERAL GRANT FUNDING AWARDED TO STUDY NEW RAIL
ROUTES OR IMPROVED RAIL ROUTES IN TAR HEEL STATE –
passenger rail corridors in North Carolina are to receive $500,000 each to develop
a scope, schedule, and cost estimate for preparing, completing, or documenting
its service development plan, it was announced December 5 by U.S. Senator Thom
Tillis, North Carolina. Grant funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation
(DOT) will total $3.5 million for the state, the Senator said.
The seven corridors are:
- Charlotte to Washington, D.C.
- Charlotte to Atlanta, GA.
- Charlotte to Kings Mountain.
- Winston Salem to Raleigh
- Fayetteville to Raleigh
- Wilmington to Raleigh
- Asheville to Salisbury
“This $3.5 million in grant funding to identify and develop potential rail lines
across North Carolina could be transformational in how North Carolinians
travel,” said Senator Tillis. “I’m proud these investments were made possible by
the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that I helped negotiate, write, and pass into
Six other North Carolina corridors were submitted for Federal grants but were
rejected this time for any funding. Jason Orthner, director of the North Carolina
Department of Transportation’s Rail Division, is optimistic those projects will be
funded in future years.
The State of South Carolina chose not to put forth any passenger rail corridors for
consideration for federal grants to improve existing routes or start new passenger
service. CAPT is hopeful discussions by passenger rail advocates with state
officials will encourage the Palmetto State to take action to bring more passenger
trains to the Palmetto State.
Passenger rail advocates throughout America and North Carolina have been
anxiously awaiting the December 5 announcement. Groups, including the
Western North Carolina Rail Committee, Eastern North Carolina Rail, CAPT, and
the NC Department of Transportation, are thrilled with this week’s news.
Words spoken last month by Jim Mathews, president, and CEO of the Rail
Passengers Association (RPA), couldn’t be more correct: “We need to fight harder
than ever to accomplish our goal of more trains for more people in more places.”
Said CAPT President Martin Wheeler: “This $3.5 million for the Corridor ID
program is a beginning. The FRA (Federal Railroad Administration) continues to
study a Midwest to Carolinas route as part of its Long-Distance Amtrak study.
Route specifics on that study are due in early to mid 2024.”
CAPT, a nonprofit organization of citizens dedicated to the improvement and
expansion of passenger rail service through and within the Carolinas, is working
with the above committees and public agencies to assist in making rail passenger
dreams a reality.
“Our 88 members come from North Carolina (60), South Carolina (15), and
elsewhere (13). Members attend various rail committee meetings, serve in
advisory positions to these groups, while two CAPT officers are state
representatives to the RPA – Jim Frierson, South Carolina, and David Robinson,
North Carolina,” Wheeler added.
Here’ a snapshot view of each of the seven approved passenger rail corridors that
will be under the microscope:
CHARLOTTE TO WASHINGTON, DC, CORRIDOR -- The proposed Corridor would
provide improvements to the existing state-supported Carolinian service
between Charlotte, NC and Washington, DC (with existing service continuing
north to New York, NY) by improving/adding services in Greensboro, Winston-
Salem, High Point, Raleigh, Durham, Salisbury, and Burlington NC and
Petersburg, Richmond, Fredericksburg and Alexandria, Virginia by addressing
infrastructure capacity constraints.
Improvements include constructing/rehabilitating a partially abandoned
alignment between Raleigh, NC and Petersburg, VA that is more direct than the
existing routing through Rocky Mount, NC, potentially shaving more than an hour
off the end-to-end travel time.
CHARLOTTE TO ATLANTA CORRIDOR -- The proposed Corridor would provide
new service on a new high speed rail alignment between Charlotte, NC and
Atlanta, GA, with potential intermediate stops including Greenville-Spartanburg
International Airport in South Carolina and Augusta and Athens, GA, then
serving a downtown Atlanta station and terminating at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-
Jackson International Airport, the world’s busiest airport.
CHARLOTTE TO KINGS MOUNTAIN CORRIDOR --
The proposed Corridor would
connect Kings Mountain, North Carolina to Charlotte, North Carolina. The
proposed Corridor would provide new service on existing alignment with capacity
improvements west of the Charlotte Gateway Station and likely extending service
to Kings Mountain, in addition to track, crossover, or signal improvements.
WINSTON-SALEM TO RALEIGH CORRIDOR -- The proposed Corridor would
connect Winston-Salem, NC with Raleigh, NC, with intermediate stops at
Greensboro, Burlington, Durham, and Cary, complementing the existing state-supported
Piedmont and Carolinian services. The proposed Corridor would also
include new frequencies, improvements to reliability, and new stations.
FAYETTEVILLE TO RALEIGH CORRIDOR --
The proposed Corridor would provide a
new service connecting Fayetteville, NC with Raleigh, NC, with intermediate stops
at Lillington, and Fuquay-Varina, NC, using an existing alignment.
WILMINGTON TO RALEIGH CORRIDOR -- The proposed Corridor would connect
Raleigh, NC to Wilmington, NC. The proposed Corridor would provide new
service on an existing alignment, part of which has been preserved and inactive
and would need to be reconstructed, to include new stations.
ASHEVILLE TO SALISBURY CORRIDOR --
The proposed Corridor would provide
new service on an existing alignment between Asheville and Salisbury in western
North Carolina, following a line that last hosted passenger trains in 1975.
NEW BRIEFS FROM DECEMBER 6 MEETING OF WESTERN NORTH CAROLINA RAIL
COMMITTEE -- It was reported that October and November were record months
for ridership on the Carolinian and Piedmont services. 66-thousand passengers
in October, an all-time record! Asheville continues to be the top requested
destination on rail passenger surveys conducted by the State.
The NC Department of Transportation's Rail Division will be funding a total of 10
million dollars to short line railroads in the state for requested improvements to
their freight operations.
The Western NC Rail Feasibility Report for Asheville-Salisbury service is now
final and being distributed. In light of Corridor ID grants from the Federal
Railroad Administration more intensive discussions will now be occurring
between Amtrak, Norfolk Southern, FRA, and the North Carolina DOT's Rail
Division on moving the Western North Carolina project forward.
Work will begin on lining up support from communities and organizations along
the route and developing a station location list for the service. Some towns have
shown little interest in the past in the proposed service and may not get a station
or have a neighboring community will get it instead.
Conover has shown significant interest in a station in the Unifour area, while
Hickory has shown little interest. Asheville City Council and other interests are
interested in potentially locating it's needed station in the River Arts district
where the original Asheville Terminal Station was located until 1967.
An FRA grant of 1.2 billion dollars is going to North Carolina for the Richmond-Raleigh (R2R) higher speed
rail passenger project. The Raleigh-Wake Forest
section of the line is considered the most complex segment in the state.
Saturday, January 20, is the next scheduled board meeting of the Carolinas
Association for Passenger Trains (CAPT). The meeting is planned for Columbia,
SC; watch your email for the location and time of this working board meeting.
One agenda item will be to elect a CAPT board secretary. The secretary’s duties
are to attend meetings, transcribe what’s discussed, read minutes at subsequent
meetings, and be involved with board and officer elections each November.
Those individuals who carry electronic or paper planners may want to write
down the locations and dates of these other 2024 scheduled board meetings.
They are Greensboro, NC, March 16; Selma, NC, May 18; Spartanburg, SC, July
20; Hamlet, NC, September 21, and Charlotte, NC, November 16.
RAIL PASSENGERS APPLAUD RELEASE OF BIPARTISAN INFRASTUCTURE LAW RAIL FUNDS
(Courtesy of Rail Passengers Association) -- The U.S. Department of
Transportation announced major advancements in two important passenger rail
programs the week of December 4, quickening the pace of implementation for the
Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
First, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) released
$8.1 billion in funding commitments for 10 passenger rail projects across the U.S.,
funding agreements for two high-speed rail projects. Simultaneously, the FRA
revealed the inaugural Corridor Identification Program (Corridor ID)
selecting 69 routes across the U.S. to receive planning and service development funding.
"Passengers from across America will be thrilled to read about the funding
agreements announced today (December 5) by the Biden-Harris Administration,”
said Jim Mathews, President and CEO of the Rail Passengers Association.
“These grants will support the introduction of daily Amtrak service in regions
that currently have to make do with trains that only come through their town
three times per week; they will help expand popular Amtrak services in rapidly
growing parts of the Southeast; and they’ll plant the seeds for scores of new
routes across the nation.
“A successful federal passenger rail program must do more than improve the
commutes in coastal cities — investing in an improved and expanded Amtrak is the
surest way to ensure that the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law improves the
transportation network for all Americans."
The $8.1 billion grabbed the headlines, with major grants announced for the
Central Valley section of the California high-speed rail system, the Brightline
West project from Las Vegas to Southern California, and the Washington, D.C. -
Richmond, VA - Raleigh, NC corridor. Today’s announcement includes $4.5 billion
in FY22 and FY23 grants from the Federal - State Program for Intercity Passenger
Rail (Fed-State), along with contingent commitments from future years of BIL (Bipartisan Infrastructure Law)
While it includes less money, the Corridor ID announcements may
ultimately play a greater role in shaping the future of the U.S. rail
network. The $500,000 planning and service development grants were
distributed to 69 routes across the U.S., with funding spread into four
categories: new high-speed rail corridors, new conventional rail corridors,
existing routes with extensions, and existing routes.
These grants will speed the development of new services on routes that
haven’t performed the required permitting or done sufficient design and
engineering work to start construction.
Corridor ID will play an important role for regions who look at today's
announcement and feel left out. There were several key corridors that
either didn't receive Fed-State grants to begin engineering and
construction -- such as the Houston - Dallas high-speed rail line and the
Heartland Flyer Extension -- or were left off of the Corridor ID list -- such as
the Pioneer restoration between Salt Lake City, Boise, and Seattle. Corridor
ID will act as a pipeline for developing projects. It will help advance routes
to a stage where they are ready to break ground, while maintaining the
ability to add additional corridors to the pipeline in future iterations.
About Rail Passengers Association:
Rail Passengers Association is the leading voice for the more than 40 million rail
passengers in the United States. We are a non-profit organization fighting for a
modern and robust national rail network that delivers safe, efficient, and
affordable rail travel for all passengers. By mobilizing a grassroots network of rail
advocates, we work to improve and expand conventional intercity and regional
passenger train services, support higher speed rail initiatives, increase
connectivity among all forms of transportation and ensure safety for our country's
trains and passengers. All of this makes communities safer, more accessible,
and more productive, improving the lives of everyone who lives, works, and plays
in towns all across America.