North Carolina NCDOT-Amtrak Carolinian Service

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Re: North Carolina NCDOT-Amtrak Carolinian Service

Postby mtuandrew » Sun Sep 10, 2017 3:51 pm

Appreciate it, Bob. Hoping it eventually pays dividends for freight and passenger service alike.
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Re: North Carolina NCDOT-Amtrak Carolinian Service

Postby Bob Roberts » Thu Sep 28, 2017 9:57 am

I stumbled across some unexpected 'official' discussion of starting passenger service in Western NC (but not the most logical Piedmont to Asheville route). The Waynesville (NC) 'paper' reported this morning on a regional economic development meeting which focused on rail development. It sounds like there was some discussion of a general desire for pax service on the Bryson City - Waynesville - Canton to Asheville route (most of which is now owned by a shortline). The article is not clear but I suspect that there is concern about the continued viability of the line for freight (the paper mill in Canton has been flirting with death for more than a decade) and some hope of preserving it with expanded tourist trains as well as commuter-like service.

While the Asheville commuter service certainly should be filed in the 'never gonna happen' folder due to track condition and inability to compete with driving, that rail discussion prompted the realization that Amtrak connecting bus service from Greenville SC to Hendersonville, Asheville and Waynesville was a realistic possibility. Unfortunately no one seemed to realize the red-eye schedule that would be required for such service.

Post script: While lots of folks are drawn to the idea of Asheville pax service it is hugely problematic for a long list of reasons. While climbing the blue ridge (either via the Old Fort loops or a magically reopened Saluda grade) is the biggest of these issues, Asheville's urban geography is also a significant barrier. All of Asheville's tracks run through valleys while 99% of the city is built 'uphill.' The tracks through town are regularly submerged, the station in Biltmore Village is kinda far from everything, and employment in the area is quite sprawled out.

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Re: North Carolina NCDOT-Amtrak Carolinian Service

Postby Bob Roberts » Thu Sep 28, 2017 8:15 pm

Arlington wrote:The Phasing is unclear from the project site: is :-D phase just the storage and service tracks, or does it also include the 6200 square foot building and we just don't see that building in the picture? (Or is the building phase 1B, for example?)

Phase 1A: Charlotte Locomotive & Railcar Maintenance Facility
A rendering of Phase 1A of the Charlotte locomotive and railcar maintenance facility. The design includes two layover and servicing tracks of 1,300 and 1,000 feet and a 600-foot-long service platform, a 475-foot-long track for spare equipment and a 6,200-square-foot building for maintenance personnel and Amtrak crews. Visit goo.gl/rb5910 for more information..


I actually discovered a second entrance to the site today. The building is complete (it looks good). A portion of the service platform is complete and some of the yard tracks have begun to go down. Photos can be found here: https://www.urbanplanet.org/forums/topi ... nt=1483828

The photo of the platform and track area is awful since it was taken at dusk.
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Re: North Carolina NCDOT-Amtrak Carolinian Service

Postby orulz » Mon Oct 02, 2017 8:40 pm

The logical bus connection is to Salisbury. Much better schedule there.

I think a tourist-focused rail service definitely between Asheville and Hendersonville would be a smash hit. Tourism is really going like gangbusters in Asheville right now (and the car traffic that comes with it is there to boot.) Hendersonville is becoming a tourist destination in its own right. With the relatively well-built former main line to the south being cut off at Saluda probably forever, and operated by a short line, there's definitely an opening here. Perhaps somehow a hybrid tourist/commuter service with multiple runs per day could make a go of it?

There's some potential there too for Asheville-Dillsboro as an extension of GSMR excursions, certainly on weekends and perhaps as much as once a day, but the comparatively poor condition of the line (which was always a branch line and not as well-built as the main line to begin with) pretty much means that any sort of scheduled commuter service would be an absolute non-starter.

I agree that the proposed station site in Biltmore isn't very good. I'm quite puzzled as to why they wouldn't just use the historic station building. A restaurant is in the building, you say? Find them a new nearby location like they did with the Long John Silver's when they rebuilt the Biltmore Avenue Bridge. But although Biltmore Village isn't downtown, it's a major tourist district in its own right, right at the entrance to the Biltmore Estate. The tracks also go right through the River Arts District which is a big tourist spot in its own right now, with New Belgium and such.

I think the flooding issue is overstated. If by regularly submerged, you mean it winds up underwater for a day or so several times each decade, then sure - but the same can be said of roads and rails literally everywhere. Can't build in the flood plain? Nonsense. You just have to build a bit higher.
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Re: North Carolina NCDOT-Amtrak Carolinian Service

Postby east point » Mon Oct 02, 2017 10:08 pm

The rail line at one time Ashville - Canton was once in fairly good condition but now ?? Canton - Dillsboro not so good especially the climb both ways to Balsam Gap. Brake check and retainers for descent from Balsam.
Note: Many years ago there was thru service on the line by SOU RR to Ashville <> Murphy and L&N Murphy <> ATL. Included was Pullman service. Connections at Ashville and ATL unknown.
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Re: North Carolina NCDOT-Amtrak Carolinian Service

Postby gokeefe » Wed Oct 04, 2017 10:56 am

I think its interesting that NCDOT's build out of service has reached a point where its reasonable to at least discuss service to Asheville. As with the Virginia service, which is now studying service to Bristol, VA, North Carolina's service to Western NC is likely to provoke consideration of new passenger service in Tennessee.
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Re: North Carolina NCDOT-Amtrak Carolinian Service

Postby deestrains » Wed Oct 04, 2017 1:46 pm

Unfortunately the capital investment to provide service SAL-ASH was scoped many years ago and provides a helpful guide for a future discussion of potential service offerings. While it is possible that the scoping process conducted by the Class 1 was 'heavy', the elementary nature of the improvements means that assumptions of down-scoping cannot be taken too far. Given the current attitudes by the Class 1's, in general, it is difficult to imagine bargaining them down from this list.

List (pp. 7-8 of this PDF):
https://connect.ncdot.gov/resources/Rail-Division-Resources/Documents/2002%20-%20Archived%20-%20Report%20on%20Western%20North%20Carolina%20Rail%20Operations.pdf

Updated revised costs were attached to these in NCDOT's 'Prioritization' process in 2013-2014, which resulted in an estimate of around $370 million.
See the 'Rail' tab, project 'R141903'
https://connect.ncdot.gov/projects/planning/Prioritization%20Data/Archive%20-%20Prioritization%203.0/P3.0%20Scores/P3.0_Total_Scores.xlsm

Note that NCDOT also provided updated ridership in its SEHSR FEIS from 2015. This resulted in per train ridership around half of current Piedmont ridership.
See page 44 of this PDF:
https://connect.ncdot.gov/resources/Rail-Division-Resources/Documents/2015%20SEHSR%20FEIS%20-%20Appendix%20C.pdf

I believe discussions of bus service are intended to begin the long road to justifying this sort of capital investment, although ridership would have to well exceed the modeled numbers (and exceed potential ridership of additional Piedmont frequences) to merit study and investment.
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Re: North Carolina NCDOT-Amtrak Carolinian Service

Postby mtuandrew » Wed Oct 04, 2017 2:47 pm

In keeping with NCDOT’s elderly passenger fleer, I think they should open Asheville motor coach service with Scenicruisers.
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Re: North Carolina NCDOT-Amtrak Carolinian Service

Postby Bob Roberts » Wed Oct 04, 2017 2:51 pm

There were rumors floating around within the past year that NS was downgrading maintenance (speeds) on the tracks west of Salisbury and I thought I head someone say the word 'shortline' (but I may be wrong about that).

NCDOT has been pretty clear that their next priority is Wilmington passenger service via Goldsboro. The Salisbury to Asheville route is SLOW, even under the best circumstances, I can only imagine the route to Knoxville (via Hot Springs and Newport) is even slower. Given that, I would be surprised if Salisbury-Asheville-Knoxville rail service only took twice as long as driving the route (its a four hour drive). Traffic is not particularly bad on the route, although I-40 is closed every couple of years due to rock slides.

The other unfortunate aspect of rail to Asheville is that its two strongest connections are Charlotte and upstate SC -- neither of which are served well via Salisbury.
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Re: North Carolina NCDOT-Amtrak Carolinian Service

Postby Tadman » Mon Oct 09, 2017 10:22 am

gokeefe wrote:I think its interesting that NCDOT's build out of service has reached a point where its reasonable to at least discuss service to Asheville. As with the Virginia service, which is now studying service to Bristol, VA, North Carolina's service to Western NC is likely to provoke consideration of new passenger service in Tennessee.


Well said, I think this is a well thought-out operation run by people with their priorities straight.

That said, I think it's unfortunate that neighboring states like SC and GA are not interested. Aside from Wilmington, the next few destinations could be Atlanta, Charleston, Chatanooga, Knoxville, etc, but I don't see any of those cities being included in the next 20 years. If you've ever flown into Charleston, you know how muc that stinks. Flights are expensive there and the drive is awful.

And as far as Asheville goes, from my experience, it's a very twisty drive and would make for one slow train that could never be drive-competitive. The thing I like about the Detroit and Milwaukee runs is that they are very drive competitive, especially when they factor in the productivity time of being on the train.
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Re: North Carolina NCDOT-Amtrak Carolinian Service

Postby OrangeGrove » Mon Oct 09, 2017 1:00 pm

Tadman wrote:And as far as Asheville goes, from my experience, it's a very twisty drive and would make for one slow train that could never be drive-competitive. The thing I like about the Detroit and Milwaukee runs is that they are very drive competitive, especially when they factor in the productivity time of being on the train.


It's not a race. While you raise a legitimate point for which I do not completely disagree, we have to be careful not to overstate the "drive competitive" case lest we fall into the same trap as the tired, long refuted argument that "passenger rail is only competitive in short and medium distance corridors where it can compete with airplanes". The primary competition is the automobile, to be certain, but trip time is hardly the only - or even primary - factor which influences choice in mode of transportation. Further, every situation is different; Even where rail is faster, such as the Northeast Corridor, time (and parking, etc.) getting to and from the station can tip the balance in favor of a direct road trip. If that doesn't make rail uncompetitive there - and it doesn't - it won't most anywhere else either.
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Re: North Carolina NCDOT-Amtrak Carolinian Service

Postby Arlington » Mon Oct 09, 2017 1:40 pm

How is ridership on the existing Thruway service at Goldsboro, Kinston, New Bern, Havelock, & Moorhead City? And what kind of investment is needed?

Seems like the natural place to expand would be the existing train (Piedmont) along state-owned tracks (NCRR), in a place without good Interstate Highways.

Interstate Highways generally mean that the train has a hard time beating car (where point to point convenience matters) and a hard time beating bus (where price and "I don't drive" matter). Train can win where the interstates are either free-but-congested, or tolled-but-free-flowing (but it is hard to beat the road modes when the road is direct, free, and uncongested).
"Trying to solve congestion by making roadways wider is like trying to solve obesity by buying bigger pants."--Charles Marohn
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Re: North Carolina NCDOT-Amtrak Carolinian Service

Postby Bob Roberts » Mon Oct 09, 2017 1:56 pm

Arlington wrote:How is ridership on the existing Thruway service at Goldsboro, Kinston, New Bern, Havelock, & Moorhead City?


I have not seen any numbers but in the three times I have been east of Raleigh on the Carolinian since the Thruway routes started I have met (or overheard) around 10 people heading to Havelock and Goldsboro. So anecdotally Thruway traffic seems strong and also driven heavily by military folks.

Disclaimer: the plural of anecdote is not data.
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Re: North Carolina NCDOT-Amtrak Carolinian Service

Postby Gilbert B Norman » Mon Oct 09, 2017 3:36 pm

Mr. Roberts, I believe you have made proper use of the adverb; anecdotally:

http://www.thefreedictionary.com/anecdotally
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Re: North Carolina NCDOT-Amtrak Carolinian Service

Postby east point » Mon Oct 09, 2017 4:48 pm

Tadman wrote:[

That said, I think it's unfortunate that neighboring states like SC and GA are not interested. Aside from Wilmington, the next few destinations could be Atlanta, Charleston, Chatanooga, Knoxville, etc, but I don't see any of those cities being included in the next 20 years. If you've ever flown into Charleston, you know how muc that stinks. Flights are expensive there and the drive is awful.

And as far as Asheville goes, from my experience, it's a very twisty drive and would make for one slow train that could never be drive-competitive. The thing I like about the Detroit and Milwaukee runs is that they are very drive competitive, especially when they factor in the productivity time of being on the train.


Getting from North Carolina to Tennessee is very difficult. Asheville is as stated; then Asheville - Knoxville / Bristol is no winner. NC from CLT / Greensboro east- Chattanooga the best time is thru ATL or possibly Bristol by way of Roanoke.
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