FROM THE CAB - October 2022

By Martin Wheeler, President

HOW WOULD YOU ANSWER THESE PASSENGER RAIL QUESTIONS? -- Joe Cunningham and Henry McMaster, on the ballot to be South Carolina’s next governor, were asked three questions about their support for passenger rail in the Palmetto State. Jim Frierson, South Carolina’s vice president to the Carolinas Association for Passenger Trains (CAPT), sent letters to both candidates late last month. CAPT’s board of directors and Jim await responses to these questions:

  • Do you believe that South Carolina needs to have intra-state passenger rail service, i.e. service that connects cities and towns within our state?
  • Would you be willing to apply, on behalf of South Carolina, for funding that is made available from President Biden’s bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (infrastructure bill) to assist in developing intra-state passenger rail service?
  • Would you be willing to support and perhaps sign legislation establishing a “rail banking” program to preserve abandoned or for sale rail lines for future passenger rail use?

The two candidates were told CAPT is an organization of unpaid volunteers who advocate for improved passenger rail service in both North and South Carolina. “We do no lobbying; our efforts are all through letter writing, personal contact, and developing proposals for services to present to elected and appointed officials and the public,” Frierson wrote.

NC PIEDMONT TRAIN DEVELOPMENTS -– The long- awaited 5th Charlotte-Raleigh frequency is now slated to begin in the Spring of 2023. This is in light of significant ridership increases lately, with Carolinian and Piedmont train ridership now exceeding pre-pandemic levels. The addition will allow restructuring of train schedules to include an early Piedmont from Charlotte, and a late Piedmont train from Raleigh.

Phase 1 of the Charlotte Multi-modal Transportation Center project "Gateway " is now completed. Phase 2 will include construction of the center which will serve Amtrak, Gold Line Streetcar, and local and inter-city bus services. It will be incorporated into a multi-story mixed-use high-rise development and may also serve light rail. Opening of the facility is expected in 2026.

RICHMOND-RALEIGH HIGH SPEED RAIL UPDATE -- The R2R project is gaining steam with a recent infusion of $58 million from the Federal Infrastructure Bill to begin design work of the former "CSX S line,” much of which was abandoned in the 1980's. Right of way in Virginia and North Carolina has been purchased by the respective states.

Passenger service featuring a 110-mph maximum speed is expected, fully grade separated, concrete ties, high speed switches, high level platforms, advanced signaling with Positive Train Control, and freight bypass tracks. Preliminary engineering should be completed by 2026. Service could begin by 2030.

In addition to inter-city passenger services, North Carolina is already planning on commuter and regional rail services on it’s segment. Virginia plans to extend the line from Petersburg to downtown Richmond Main Street station by 2040. On a related matter, NC DOT's Rail Division is taking an initial look at service from Raleigh to Norfolk for the future via Rocky Mount and Weldon.

WESTERN NC RAIL PASSENGER DEVELOPMENTS -- A feasibility study for up to 3 trains per day between Salisbury and Asheville is expected by end of the year. The trains would make connections with Piedmont and Carolinian services in Salisbury. Maximum speed on the line would be 79 mph where allowed. Many of the stations along the line were renovated in past years for the expected resumption of service. Question marks are Hickory, which has never embraced the concept, and Asheville, which will need a new station facility. Service would be several years away due to expected track, signal, and train control work needed; and approval from Norfolk Southern which presently owns the line.

ELECTIONS UPCOMING IN NOVEMBER –- CAPT’S annual general membership meeting is planned for November 19 in Charlotte. New directors will be elected to two-year terms, while new officers will be selected for one calendar year. The board of directors consists of 12 to 18 members, based on the percentage of CAPT members in North and South Carolina.

Any member interested in running for the board should contact any member of the present board and provide biographical information or be prepared to provide this information in person at the November meeting.

Current directors who are ending a term of two years should notify Secretary Phil Astwood at if your intention is to run again! Those who do not notify the Secretary or appear at the meeting will not be considered. “New board members are needed and wanted because healthy organizations benefit from new ideas and new energy,” said President Martin Wheeler. The current CAPT board serves as the official nominating committee.

‘YOU ONLY MISS IT WHEN IT’S GONE’ –- “The U.S. rail system is an essential part of the U.S. economy and transportation network,” said Jim Mathews, president of the Rail Passengers Association (RPA). “Add it up however you want -- $2 billion per day in costs to the economy, wrecked commutes, missed trips to the doctor’s office, or ruined vacations with family” were at risk last month when a “potentially crippling nationwide (rail) strike loomed over an economy just starting to recover from Covid.”

Like CAPT, the RPA “continues to advocate for more trains with better service and we will continue to talk about how the railroads are a vital and important part of our economy,” Mathews continued. Readers of this newsletter are encouraged to support both passenger rail advocacy organizations. To learn more, enter Rail Passengers Association and/or Carolinas Association for Passenger Trains in your browser.

STATION NEWS -- The new Amtrak station for Lexington, NC, continues to move closer. The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is kicking in a $24.9 million grant presented to town officials on September 28th. The NC Department of Transportation and City of Lexington are also providing funding for the project. Total cost of the project is $57 million with completion by 2027. The project includes two boarding platforms, renovation of a freight depot as interim station, auto tunnel under the railroad at 5th Avenue which will connect Talbert Avenue, track improvements, and closing the grade crossing at 7th Avenue. Construction work on the project should begin by 2024.

Thousands in Raleigh are urging the city to save the historic Seaboard Airline Passenger Station built in 1942. Owners of the property are planning a redevelopment of the area and may be amenable to including the station in the development plans. More details can be found at

CAPT FALLEN FLAGS -- Longtime CAPT member Harry Clapp of Greensboro passed away in late June just short of his 99th birthday. Clapp was always helpful in coordinating our meetings and activities and had much enthusiasm for passenger rail expansion especially along the route of the Crescent. He was also a member of the National Railway Historical Society and worked on a number of railroad projects during his career as a civil engineer.

CAPT member Charles Fishburne also lived in Greensboro for several years before passing away in retirement in Pittsboro at the age of 101 in 2020. His father was a railroad conductor for Southern Railway in Columbia which sparked his rail interest. Charles was an engineer working with Bell Labs, Western Electric, and number of other companies during his career. In retirement he also was involved in support for the indigenous and physically challenged communities.

Former CAPT board member and South Carolina Vice-President Joe Roof of Columbia passed away in 2021. A local attorney for over 50 years, he was instrumental in earlier years of the association around state and local advocacy in Columbia and South Carolina, guiding us through legal matters in connection with incorporation and nonprofit status.

*The pandemic caused a disconnect among membership, and other news of members passing would be appreciated as we appreciate and recognize all involved in our cause,” President Wheeler said.

TRAIL PROPOSALS COULD CONFLICT WITH FUTURE REACTIVATION OF RAIL LINES IN THE CAROLINAS -- CAPT is involved in helping and supporting groups wanting to preserve rail use on lines inactive across the Carolinas. The most recent development is a proposal in Myrtle Beach that might derail proposals to extend rail passenger service across the Intracoastal Waterway into the downtown area. Also, CAPT is working with interests in Western North Carolina in connection with a proposal by environmental groups to put a trail on over 30 miles of the Saluda grade line between Hendersonville and Tryon, SC. CAPT's goal is to preserve right of ways for "rail use”, not to convert lines to trails which would preclude future use for rail transportation passenger and/or freight.