FROM THE CAB - July 2021

By Martin Wheeler, President, CAPT

Three board members of the Carolinas Association for Passenger Trains 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.

“Amtrak’s existing group of long-distance trains (excluding the auto train) collectively produce some $4.7 billion in annual economic benefits which are distributed throughout America’s heartland,” Rail Passenger studies show. Similarly, communities in both North and South Carolina economically benefit from the Silver Meteor, Silver Star, Palmetto, Carolinian, and Piedmont.

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. A research brochure and cost sheet for an economic impact study were provided to CAPT. They are attached for your review between now and our upcoming in-person board meeting on July 17 at the North Charleston Amtrak station.

The research brochure describes who RPA is and what they do. Economic impacts of passenger rail and examples of their research efforts are included. Four levels of expense are included on the cost sheet. They are: Social Economic Study, $65,000; Research Note, $25,000; Fact Sheet, $10,000, and Output Numbers, $5,000.

An economic impact study on the Charlotte – Columbia – Charleston corridor would cost more to produce than we can afford. I think we will need to build a public/private consortium to fund the study, which is a logical continuation of the excellent work done to plan the rail corridors described in the brochure, “Could this be South Carolina’s Passenger Rail Future?” If any of the four levels of expense work within our budget, RPA would be happy to make a detailed presentation to the board, Jeans-Gail said.