FROM THE CAB - June 2022

By Jim Frierson, Vice President – South Carolina,
Carolinas Association for Passenger Trains

FIXING COLUMBIA’S RAILROAD CROSSINGS -- Traffic delays caused by freight train movements on South Assembly St., Huger St., and any one of several so-called “side” streets feeding into those larger thoroughfares in Columbia are awful, says Jim Frierson, South Carolina vice president for the Carolinas Association for Passenger Trains.

“They’re a bane for motorists, and all too often, the delays occur during morning rush hour, evening rush hour, at lunchtime, when you’re late for an appointment, going to a USC football game, or making a visit to the state fair,” he adds.

Motorist’s travel delays can be prevented. Others can be eliminated. Some are unavoidable. What’s up with this one? It has been the subject of complaints, verbally and in writing. City, county, and state officials have studied and debated the issue. The problem comes down to money. At a cost of $180-200 million, area leaders may have found a viable solution.

A third-party grant writer is to apply for various federal grants to cover much of the expense, says Columbia Mayor Daniel Rickenmann. Traffic flow, vehicular safety, and a reduction of train/vehicle collisions are among the justifications expected to be included in the grant applications.

Local matching dollars, in the tens of millions, could be required. State Representative Kirkman Finlay pledged $35 million of state funds. Another $15 million could come from the City of Columbia and Richland County.

The Richland County Penny Sales Tax for Transportation could be tapped to fund the work, which could begin in three to five years, Frierson tells From the Cab readers.

Fifteen railroad crossings along Assembly and Huger Streets may be eliminated by elevating tracks over the roads, elevating roadways over the tracks, and abandoning a stretch of CSX trackage.

This mix of three solutions is favored by consultants working for the South Carolina Department of Transportation. Specifically, the following roadway changes are under consideration:

  • Lower a portion of Assembly St. so Catawba and Whaley Streets could be elevated over the train tracks.
  • Abandon CSX trackage to eliminate crossings on Assembly at Dreyfus and Rosewood Streets.
  • Elevate a roadway over a stretch of railroad tracks between Huger and Wayne Streets. Two intersections – Lincoln/Assembly and Flora/Assembly – would be closed to vehicles.

While feasibility studies date back to 2009, none have been implemented due to financial issues and “sticking points” with Assembly Street crossings. Federal study and assessment requirements, including Environmental Impact Studies, traffic count studies, and accident studies, have slowed progress, Frierson says.

“I can think of no project that would transform a community such as this one,” State Representative Finlay said at a news conference in early May. A shared vision and collaboration among federal, state, county, and city leaders can secure funding and get something done for motorists, Mayor Rickenmann is reported to have said in a newspaper article by Morgan Hughes of the THE STATE (newspaper).

HILLSBOROUGH RESIDENT JOINS BOARD -- Tom Darling, a Hillsborough resident, has joined the board of directors of the Carolinas Association for Passenger Trains (CAPT). He’ll represent North Carolina on the two-state association of passenger rail advocates.

CAPT has three meetings remaining in 2022. Meetings are scheduled for Marion, NC, July 16; Myrtle Beach, SC, September 17, and Charlotte, NC, on November 17.

The July 16th meeting, which originally was scheduled for Myrtle Beach, will instead be in Marion. Tentatively, CAPT hopes to meet with the Western North Carolina Rail Committee, Inc. next month.

Currently, CAPT has 36 members, 22 who hail from North Carolina. Nine South Carolina residents have joined CAPTS. Five other members live in states other than North and South Carolina