By Martin Wheeler, President, Carolinas Association for Passenger Trains
with assistance from Don Yehle, CAPT Board Member and Editor

SIX SITES SELECTED FOR 2024 CAPT BOARD MEETINGS – Six North and South Carolina cities have been tentatively named to host bimonthly board meetings of the Carolinas Association for Passenger Trains in 2024. They are Columbia, SC, January 20; Greensboro, NC, March 16; Selma, NC, May 18; Spartanburg, SC, July 20; Hamlet, NC, September 21, and Charlotte, NC, November 16.

The Charlotte meeting will also be the organization’s annual meeting. CAPT may schedule additional zoom or in-person meetings in even numbered months next year where and when developments warrant.

FOUR OFFICERS REELECTED IN RALEIGH - At its November 18th annual meeting in Raleigh, four CAPT board members were elected to lead the rail advocacy group for the next year. Newly elected officers are Martin L. Wheeler, Jr., President; David Robinson, Vice President – North Carolina; Jim Frierson, Vice President – South Carolina, and Ralph Messera, Treasurer. Robinson has also volunteered to serve as interim secretary, until a permanent CAPT secretary is selected.

THANKS, PHIL, AND BILL -- Two individuals – Bill Cole and Phil Astwood – have stepped down from CAPT leadership positions. “The contributions of both individuals to CAPT can’t be overstated,” said Wheeler, who like Frierson, Messera, and Robinson are continuing to lead CAPT, which was established in 1982.

TWO-YEAR BOARD TERMS BEGIN FOR THOMAS AND GOSSETT -- As he finishes a one-year appointed term to the CAPT board, Tommy Thomas of Castle Hayne, NC, has been elected to a two-year term of board service for the period 11/23 to 11/25. Meanwhile, Charles D. Gossett of Columbia, SC, was also elected to the CAPT board for the same two-year time frame.

NINE OTHERS CONTINUE TO SERVE CAPT – Reelected to two-year terms on the CAPT board are John Bobinyec, Wheeler, Frierson, and Messera. Their appointments run from 11/23 to 11/25. Don Yehle, a board member since 11/22, was reappointed for another year. A year from now, five board members will be up for reelection for terms beginning 11/24 to 11/ 26. They are Robert Bischoff, Tom Darling, Ed Locklin, David Robinson, and Yehle.

The CAPT board of directors meets in Raleigh, North Carolina, on Saturday, November 18.

SC’S RAIL ACTION PLAN IS UNDER STUDY -- Board Members Jim Frierson and David Robinson continue to study rail issues in the Palmetto State. Meanwhile, Board Members Tom Darling and Ralph Messera are examining restructuring CAPT’s membership dues. Reports to the full board are expected in January from both study groups.

Board actions in November include requiring submission of action items for consideration at board meetings to be presented in writing at least one week before scheduled meetings. A speaking engagement on January 16, 2024, by President Martin Wheeler was approved. Wheeler will address 40 members of the Bluffton Men’s Fellowship Club on rail advocacy issues in South Carolina, at the invitation of Yehle, who is a member of both organizations.

CAPT STUDENT CHAPTERS – A PROPOSAL -- Board Member David Robinson has been thinking about a way to get students to have input into current and future passenger rail services, and (eventually) to grow CAPT membership. (Other board members are equally concerned about growing CAPT membership and have tossed out their own ideas.)

“How about forming student chapters in universities, colleges, and technical colleges in, or near to, cities with Amtrak stations in North Carolina and South Carolina?

“A CAPT board member or general member would volunteer (or assigned) to be the CAPT College Coordinator, find out the best way to involve students, and speak at the first organizational meeting at the college. Then maybe invite a speaker from Amtrak, or NCDOT, or the city, he continues.

“I can't imagine the need for more than 2 meetings per semester. My thought is for Student Membership to be free. It could be a business-changing opportunity for CAPT, and career-choice potential for the students. They could receive ‘From the Cab’ and maybe we'd get space in the college newspaper,” Robinson concludes.

CAPT IS WORKING WITH LEXINGTON, NC, COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT - CAPT President Martin Wheeler and Treasurer Ralph Messera met with Lexington Community Development Director Tammy Absher earlier this month. It was an excellent meeting on rail issues, including how CAPT can work cooperatively with the town. “We learned many issues affecting the final move ahead with the new Amtrak station in the town,” Wheeler said.

Those issues are also affecting development of stations in two other NC cities – Harrisburg and McLeansville. “Issues revolve around indemnification and liability concerns raised by Norfolk Southern,” the CAPT president said.

MEETING IN WALLACE OF EASTERN NC RAIL -- The second in a series of informational meetings in Eastern North Carolina on the Raleigh-Wilmington rail passenger initiative was Tuesday, November 28, in Wallace. A similar Passenger Rail Symposium was held at the Historic Burgaw Depot in Pender County on October 24.

CAPT Board Member Tommy Thomas was present at both meetings. President Martin Wheeler also attended the Pender County meeting, while David Robinson, CAPT VP for North Carolina, joined Thomas in Wallace.

Eddie McFalls, a Strategic Initiatives Consultant for the NC Department of Transportation Rail Division, was in Wallace to provide an update on the state’s rail transportation plan. The town of Wallace and Eastern Carolina Rail co-hosted the latest meeting, which was designed to educate citizens on the need for passenger rail stations in Pender, Duplin, Wayne, Johnson, and Wake counties to serve the proposed passenger rail corridor.

Two possible sites for passenger stations in Duplin County are Wallace (on the Pender County Line) and Warsaw which is about 21 miles further north, according to a news release.

Said Wallace Mayor Jason Wells: “The railroad helped give birth to our community. The return of tracks and passenger service will help accelerate area growth and truly change the landscape of Wallace in the 21st Century.“

Passenger train service to Goldsboro and Raleigh from Wilmington ceased in 1968. Resuming passenger trains on this corridor could be done within the next decade, citizens are being told.

If track is restored from Wallace to Castle Hayne in New Hanover County, freight service could also expand to Wilmington as part of the project. (Freight rail service is already available in Duplin County through CSX from Wallace northbound.). A new rail bridge over the NE Cape Fear River is also expected to be part of this transportation project.

The next step in this process would be a $500,000 federal grant to start pursuing this option, with an announcement on chosen North Carolina routes expected before the end of the year.

SMITH CREEK JUNCTION--THE "TRUE MISSING LINK" OF THE W&W -- Tommy Thomas is working hard to bring about a restoration of passenger and freight rail service north up the old W&W. Challenges ahead for restoration proponents are outlined below by CAPT Board Member Thomas:

“An NCDOT map of the North Carolina Rail System contains blue lines for CSX rail, green lines for Norfolk Southern trackage, a broad green-and-yellow stripe that depicts the NCRR from Morehead City to Charlotte, and numerous thin, purple lines that trace the all-important short line railroads that complete the network.

“Not so obvious are the dotted lines that represent inactive corridors, but one practically leaps off the page--the 26-mile segment of the old Wilmington and Weldon Railroad through Pender County north of Wilmington.

“With momentum building to restore this segment that will make possible the re-institution of passenger rail service between Wilmington and Raleigh (through Goldsboro) and create a direct route for freight between the State Port and the Carolina Connector Intermodal Terminal (CCX) in Rocky Mount, and given the fact that the State of North Carolina owns the corridor, one might conclude that making the old W&W "whole" again would be a fairly simple matter. Not so fast...

“Just northeast of downtown Wilmington are two tracts of land that must be acquired by the State to make this restoration a reality. The first (a little over 20 acres that contained the old Atlantic Coast Line switching yards) was sold to the New Hanover County Board of Education by CSX in 1984 for construction of Dorothy B. Johnson Elementary School. The present-day school is completely fenced in (using less than half the acreage) and sits out of the way on the northwest side of the tract, while the rest is basically unchanged from 40 years ago. The other is a low-lying tract of 10 or so acres (still owned by CSX) leading up to the Smith Creek Bridge (also owned by CSX). It, too, remains much as it was decades ago.

“Taken as a whole, these tracts held the old "diamond" intersection and requisite turning radii of the junction of the original W&W with the Wilmington Beltline Railroad that has served the Port of Wilmington since its opening in 1907. To re-connect the State-owned downtown Wilmington Lead corridor (and the Beltline) to the Pender County W&W "missing link" will require acquisition of the property that once held Smith Creek Junction, the ‘true missing link.’

“The NHCBOE is more than willing to sell its unneeded property back to the State, but efforts to complete the sale have been buried in state bureaucracy for several years. Now is a critical time for this process--hopefully the selection of the Raleigh-to-Wilmington passenger route as part of the Federal Amtrak Corridor ID process will produce the actions necessary to solve this issue.”

“EVERYTHING DEPENDS ON LOCAL INTEREST AND LOCAL ADVOCACY” – CAPT President Martin Wheeler was present with Western North Carolina citizens, passenger rail advocates, NCDOT officials, and elected representatives in Morganton, NC, on Tuesday, November 28, who gathered with one purpose in mind – to bring passenger rail service back to Burke County.

Click on the Morganton website (or either of the social media attachments) to learn more:


$66 BILLION INVESTMENT AHEAD OF REAL WORK -- The Rail Passengers Association (RPA) has been at every single long-distance workshop put on by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), because we are committed to being in the room as plans are being made to build the passenger rail network we all have been working toward for years, said Jim Matthews, RPA president and CEO. “We need to fight harder than ever to accomplish our goal of more trains for more people in more places,” he continued, after citing the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that has provided a historic $66 billion investment in passenger rail.

KEEP FINGERS CROSSED AS CORRIDOR ID PROGRAM GRANTS EXPECTED –- “The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is expected to award Corridor ID program approvals before the end of the year for potential new rail passenger service.

“NC submitted 13 corridors for initial grants of 500-thousand dollars. The three most prominent corridors are Asheville- Salisbury, Raleigh-Richmond, Va. (R2R High Speed service) , and Raleigh- Wilmington.

“The FRA in conjunction with Amtrak and the Rail Passengers Association (RPA) hopes to finalize potential new Amtrak long distance routes in 2024. Most recently FRA indicated it would study a Midwest to Carolinas route for inclusion. The service would link the Midwest to Asheville, and the Carolinas coastal cities of Charleston, SC or Wilmington, NC depending on route chosen. The idea was proposed by CAPT President Martin Wheeler, and presented at the Rail Nation event in Meridian, Mississippi in October. "

WHY DOES NORTH AMERICA HAVE SUCH POOR PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION? -- Authors studied 23 public transit systems in the United States and Canada to get the answer. See Article

WITH RECORD RIDERSHIP, NORTH CAROLINA LOOKS TO EXPAND PASSENGER RAIL SYSTEM -- An article in the News and Observer earlier this month talks of how 1.1 million people boarded passenger trains in North Carolina in the year ending September 30. North Carolina Department of Transportation leaders joined their boss, Gov. Roy Cooper, on a train trip from Raleigh to Greensboro to showcase “ambitions” to further expand the passenger rail system.