FROM THE CAB - October 2021

By Martin Wheeler, President, CAPT

RAILNATION: DC 2021 – Virtual Fall Advocacy Conference
Jim Frierson, a Carolina Association for Passenger Trains board member from Columbia, participated last month in a 3 and half day virtual passenger rail advocacy conference. Covid-19 forced the Rail Passengers Association (RPA) to cancel its in-person Fall Advocacy Conference originally scheduled for Alexandria, Virginia. The virtual meeting was held September 19-22.

A new RPA member, Frierson also joined fellow CAPT board member Don Yehle at RPA’s virtual Spring Advocacy Conference, as well. During that meeting last April, staff members from six of nine South Carolina Congressional offices heard about concerns for passenger rail service in the Palmetto State. “The idea behind these calls is to ask Congressional staff members to share our views with their bosses – senators and representatives,” Frierson said.

In September, Frierson made phone calls to all nine DC offices of South Carolina’s Senators (Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott) and seven House of Representative membesrs (Nancy Mace, Joe Wilson, Jeff Duncan, William Timmons, Ralph Norman, Jim Clyburn and Tom Rice.) E-mail addresses were obtained, and notes were emailed introducing Jim Frierson, who he represents, and when and why he wanted to visit with administrative staffers of Congressional offices.

Ashleigh Wilson, an assistant to Representative Clyburn, took time to visit w ith Frierson. “We touched on the administration’s pending infrastructure bill and its impact for Amtrak and how that could translate into improved passenger rail service in our state,” Frierson said. “I emphasized to Ms. Wilson that CAPT sees passenger rail service to be a bi-partisan issue and worthy of full support by both sides of the aisle.” The Congressional assistant assured Frierson of Mr. Clyburn’s support of the Infrastructure Investment and Job Act (IIJA). Frierson was encouraged to contact Clyburn’s office again “whenever I wished to discuss the issue further.”

Ms. Olivia Widenhouse, representing Congressman William Timmons’ office, replied belatedly to Frierson’s email request for a “Day on the Hill” virtual phone conversation, to be arranged later. CAPT and RPA passenger rail concerns will be discussed, Frierson said.

Zoom was employed for all live sessions of the Fall Advocacy Conference, including the Sunday, September 19, board of director’s meeting which was open to all attendees. Monday was kicked off with an address by Jim Mathews, RPA’s president, and CEO, who offered an overview of the infrastructure legislation and what it means for passenger rail.

Sean Jeans-Gail, RPA’s VP for Policy and Government Affairs, followed Mathews on September 20th by discussing three items: Federal-State Partnership Grants for Intercity Rail and what they entail; Restoration and Enhancements grants, and Amtrak’s Long-Distance Route Study.

During the Monday afternoon “prep session” on best methods to reach Congressional delegations, Jeans- Gail noted that the IIJA passed the US Senate (as of August 10th), is in its final form, and will become law “eventually” once it passes in the House of Representatives. “We should be on the lookout for what the Federal government calls Notice of Funding Opportunities or NOFOs, and that there is a lot of money to come,” Jeans-Gail said.

Amtrak’s Roger Harris, executive vice president and chief marketing and revenue officer, also talked that Monday afternoon of marketing strategies Amtrak uses, how the company managed to preserve service during the pandemic, and was even able to roll out a few new features and services during 2020 and 2021.

Another Amtrak executive vice president, Laura Mason, spoke with the virtual audience about new Acela trainsets and new trainsets to replace the old Amfleet trainsets. The newly hired Major Programs executive also touched on Amtrak’s Gateway program as a replacement for New York City’s Hudson Tunnel. The infrastructure bill will fund many badly needed passenger rail improvements for the Northeast Corridor, although those new dollars are insufficient to address all of Amtrak’s needs, she said.

RPA’s Mathews returned to the podium later that Monday afternoon to discuss cost benefit analysis developed for Amtrak that show economic benefits of six different long-distance passenger rail routes. The program used for these studies, called IMPLAN, has looked at the Sunset Limited. Results have been shared with the Senate Commerce Committee and the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee as well as media.

Amit Bose, just nominated by the Biden Administration to be the new Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) administrator, concluded the September 20th sessions by explaining how passenger rail has been the “forgotten mode” of transportation. Bose broke down how $66 billion of infrastructure spending on passenger and freight rail would be allocated over a five-year period. Amtrak ($22 billion); Federal-State Partnership grants ($24 billion), and Partnerships for Intercity Passenger Rail Grants ($12 billion) – are three rail categories to receive funding.

How best to use web-conferencing to interact with various RPA council and board members was a major topic of discussion at the Fall Conference. Strategies to gain support from local elected officials and other stakeholders for passenger rail initiatives was emphasized. Reviving, restructuring, and reorganizing RPA committees to ensure RPA’s goals are met, particularly to take advantage of future Federal funding options, was also discussed.

The Fall Conference concluded Wednesday the 22nd. A suggestion was made that RPA hold monthly webinars to keep rail advocates more aware of passenger rail happenings.

“The Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS ) is presenting an update and refinements in the Silver Line Light Rail planning process. Information about the proposed alignment, station refinements, implementation, and phasing of the proposed 29-mile light rail line is available at

“Recent meetings are on the CATS YouTube page, as well as archived meetings from earlier in the planning process. Comment period for public input ends on November 3, 2021,” CAPTs has learned.

Several most recent changes are: Moving the proposed Suttle Avenue station to West Morehead Street; adding additional stations at Summit Avenue and 11th Street in the Garden district east of the proposed station and interfacing with the existing Blue Line light rail line.

Shifting the alignment along Monroe Rd. farther away from street right of way is proposed and would be phased. The Gateway Station to Matthews eastside segment opening around 2036 would cost $5.1 billion, while the Gateway Station to I-485 segment on the west side (which includes the airport) opening around 2040 is projected to cost $3.2 billion. Other segments require additional funding and planning efforts.