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 – Seven potential 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 law.”

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., including large funding agreements for two high-speed rail projects. Simultaneously, the FRA revealed the inaugural Corridor Identification Program (Corridor ID) list, 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) funding.

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.