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I believe it is funded by Amtrak. I just played around on the Amtrak website and it actually does let you book a ticket from Wilmington or Morehead to Charlotte (or the reverse) via the Carolinian and the Thruway bus. The schedule for connecting to the Carolinian (1.5 hour layover westbound, 3+ hours eastbound) is worse than that for the Palmetto (<1 hour layover in any direction) but at least it's an advertised connection so it does let you book it.

Agreed about a connection to the west. I have to hope this is somewhere on their agenda.

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Amtrak ridership numbers for fiscal year 2019 are out.  The Carolinian is down 4.7% to 244,779.  The Piedmont is up 28.1% at 214,218.  The Piedmont saw the second highest growth on all of Amtrak's rou

From the July NCDOT rail report: https://connect.ncdot.gov/resources/Rail-Division-Resources/Documents/2019.07_Monthly Rail Report.pdf Things are going well, The Carolinian has basically been at

Current routing in red, the new VA rail purchase in green. I'm not sure how to find ownership of the "Norlina Subdivision" line running from Norlina to Raleigh, but boy that's an exciting possibility

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If and when the S-line is reactivated, I agree that it's likely the Silver Star would be routed over that line. Rocky Mount loses service, but they still have the Silver Meteor which is on a somewhat similar schedule. The only place they lose direct access to is Tampa.

As for the Carolinian, I bet that NCDOT would turn that into a Charlotte-Rocky Mount train. No need to extend a Regional to Selma; people living in Rocky Mount, Wilson, and Selma going to the northeast can still ride the Palmetto, which runs on a very similar schedule to the Carolinian anyway.

So Rocky Mount gets cut back from 8 to 5 trains per day, but when you look at the schedule, what is lost is mostly redundant service - so on balance, surprisingly little convenience is lost.

I always forget about the Palmetto. Looking at the schedule, it seems like those three towns on the CSX mainline can stay well served without the Carolinian.

So here's my fun Carolinian-weekend summary. Friday to NYC, Monday back to CLT. My overall experience was generally in-line with what's been said before. Basically, Virginia sucks.

Northbound, we were dead on schedule until just...before...Peters...bur...g. The lateness was far and away made up by tearing up the NEC, getting us to New York a full 45 minutes ahead of schedule. (Indeed, I guess they don't count on anyone catching that train north of DC.) I was pleasantly surprised with how smooth service was in NC and enjoyed getting to see several towns I'd never seen before. I wish Rocky Mount the best of luck with their downtown improvement projects.

Southbound, we were already 15 behind coming into DC. By the time we made it to Selma, that delay had increased to 45 minutes or so. I'm still not quite sure how it was managed, but we ended up only being a couple minutes late arriving in Charlotte.

Couple thoughts on the service itself -

First, so much more comfortable than flying. Very friendly crew. Loved the outlets and leg room. Lousy wireless.

I am still a little weirded out by the otherwise archaic-seeming system of marking off customer destinations. Scribbles on scrap paper just.. um, I dunno. It's 2012. Let's figure something out. The other thing was very uneven application of various "rules" (or maybe suggestions, not sure) by staff, as well as inconsistent announcements. One crew made virtually no stop announcement, where another crew would announce it three times by different crew members AND again walking through the car. I mean, passenger trains do have a European feel, but let's try to be more reliable :)

I'm glad you enjoyed your trip. I've noticed that about the crews announcing (or not, in some cases) the stops. The paper slips seem like the easiest way for the crew (and replacement crew(s)) to keep track of where passengers are going. They even do this on long-distance trains (Silver Star), even when you're given a seat when you board. I'm not sure how else they could easily keep track of every passengers' destination.

Edited by cowboy_wilhelm
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^better stations at each end (along with improved access to transit), combined with downtown Charlotte baseball, combined with OK transit access to UNCC, combined with two additional frequencies, combined with wifi, combined with slightly better access to UNC-CH (Hillsborough station), combined with higher capacity on the Carolinian, combined with higher speed and greater reliability are really going to goose ridership over the next five years.

All of these recent ridership improvements have come from better awareness and solid execution by NCDOT. When we start to see tangible improvements to the infrastructure things will change even more dramatically.

If only I could buy a beer on the Piedmont......

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^one other positive contribution to ridership out of Charlotte will be increased visibility when Gateway opens. Since the Piedmont / Carolinian only pass through a tiny and largely invisible section of Charlotte very few people ever see the trains (or station). Once trains begin to run regularly on the elevated tracks through town (in the daytime) intercity rail will enter the conciousness of many new potential passengers.

But we still really need wifi on the Piedmont....

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I suspect its just horrible journalism but I wanted to mention that this article from the Charlottesville VA paper mentions the possibility of a private group building dedicated track HSR from DC to Richmond and Norfolk (the Raleigh connection is acknowledged). Very little substance in the article and their source appears to be a blog (which I did not dig into yet)

http://www.dailyprogress.com/opinion/article_30a8e784-290d-11e2-a025-001a4bcf6878.html

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Does anyone happen to know where _exactly_ the NCRR ends in Charlotte and where the NS main begins?

 

I had always assumed it was somewhere around trade street but both Gateway station and the new service yard would be more complicated on NS tracks (I would assume). 

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According to the latest Amtrak Monthly Performance Report the Carolinian is now one of three profitable Amtrak services outside the NE Corridor (Lynchburg and Newport News being the others). Keep in mind that Amtrak's accounting system is not straightforward so there is still room for debate about profitability.

 

http://www.amtrak.com/ccurl/34/894/Amtrak-Monthly-Performance-Report-September-2012.pdf

 

I would like to see a highway pull that off,

Edited by kermit
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They never show the ticket revenues and operating costs on the same page; the numbers you are looking at show a profit AFTER the money paid by NC.

 

For the Carolinian, the ticket revenues were $18.6 million and the fully allocated operating costs $20.7 million. This is about 90% recovery from ticket revenue which is not bad, given the fact that the Carolinian is not very fast, prone to delay, and limited to six coaches by the length of the layover siding in Charlotte. Adding cars will undoubtedly help, too, as will things like better stations in Raleigh and Charlotte.

 

But more than anything I would take this as proof positive that a high speed rail route would absolutely be quite profitable.

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Does anyone happen to know where _exactly_ the NCRR ends in Charlotte and where the NS main begins?

 

I had always assumed it was somewhere around trade street but both Gateway station and the new service yard would be more complicated on NS tracks (I would assume). 

The NCRR ran into uptown Charlotte and ended where the light rail track enters the Charlotte Convention Center, where it connected to the (rail)road to Columbia SC. The NCRR sold the segment to the City of Charlotte back to the CSX diamond so Charlotte could build its light rail. NS stopped running freight along that segment many moons before that as the NS line passsed ADM by passed the last mile or so of the NCRR.  The light rail starting at the convention center running to 485 outh followed the old road to Columbia, which was built before the NCRR started operation

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^ thanks, that was very helpful.

So its fair to say that NCRR ownership will end around the South end of the current NS intermodal yard (after CATS takes posestion of the old ROW for the BLE)?

Are there thorny issues to building the passenger service yard and Gateway station on the NS ROW (or do the new passenger bypass tracks resolve most of those problems)?

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a poster over at rr.net has a nice chart of Piedmont and Carolinian passenger boarding by station for 2008-2012 (IIRC the midday train started running in 2009). The chart does nicely show the relaitonship between the new Cary station and declining boardings in Raleigh. Durham and Cary now have roughly equal boardings.

 

http://www.railroad.net/forums/viewtopic.php?f=46&t=113695&start=60#p1126920

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^ thanks, that was very helpful.

So its fair to say that NCRR ownership will end around the South end of the current NS intermodal yard (after CATS takes posestion of the old ROW for the BLE)?

Are there thorny issues to building the passenger service yard and Gateway station on the NS ROW (or do the new passenger bypass tracks resolve most of those problems)?

The private railroad companies are very particular about protecting their right of way.  Anything that will limit their ability to add capacity or negatively impact operations are large bips on their radar screen.  This is why NCDOT is looking at the large property west of Summit Avenue and a portion of the Charlotte Pipe and Foundary for the Maintenance facility site.  This is adjacent to Norfolk Southern's corridor.  NCDOT will also have a separate track that will be used to access the facility (and the Gateway Station)....thus not impacting NS' operations.

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I can't read the article since it's behind a paywall. It does reference the PED report, released late last year, recommending that the NCRR be kept as a state-owned corporation but made to pay a 25% dividend to the state. That is a reasonable middle ground; however, if the far right voices hold sway, everything will be privatized, logic be damned.

 

I'm feeling pessimistic today, but with Art Pope being one of those far right voices, and holding such a prominent position in McCrory's cabinet, and with Republicans in control of the house, the senate, and the governorship, I would say it's possible that this may be the swan song for passenger rail improvements in North Carolina - perhaps even the entire passenger rail program. I hope that McCrory will remain true to his transit-promoting roots and maintain state ownership of this valuable asset, but given the appointment of Art Pope, I'm not completely sure.

 

Under a right-wing future scenario:

 

(1) The NCRR could be sold to NS in a completely irreversible transaction, for FAR less than it's really worth. This asset that is probably worth close to a billion dollars (and would cost way more than that if the corridor were assembled from scratch today) would probably sell for about $200 million since there will be only one entity to bid on it and the right wing elements of the state are dead set on offloading it ASAP.

(2) NS would take their profits earned on the line and promptly invest all of it to improve tracks in other states. The NCRR is already in such good shape thanks to the stewardship of the state of NC that they would not see the need for any improvements within our borders.

(3) The money from the sale of the NCRR would be used to do who knows what. Best case scenario, used to fund capital projects like highways. Worst case scenario, plowed into the general fund and used to drop tax rates for a year.

(4) State subsidized passenger rail would end and the equipment would be sold (Perhaps the Carolinian will continue since it's so close to breaking even.)

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Let's not forget that Amtrak has done very well under Republicans at the state level in NC and Virginia.  The Carolinian was first started under a Republican governor, and Virginia has significantly expanded its Amtrak service under a GOP legislature and governor.

 

I would hope that the NCRR is sold to Norfolk Southern.  NS already has a long-term lease on it, and so it's not as if going from the current setup to NS ownership would be a night vs. day change.  As a condition to the sale, the state could just require that NS allow the operation of a certain number of passenger trains on it.  NS would also pay plenty of taxes on its NCRR assets if it bought the railroad.

 

Compare European freight railroads, which are generally public, to American ones, which are generally private: American ones are generally profitable, ship goods at much lower costs and run much more efficiently vs European ones, which generally lose money, have declining market share, ship goods at high costs and run bloated operations.  Other than protecting passenger operations (which can be done by contract), I see no reason to have a state-owned RR in the US.

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Ownership by the state gives the NCRR the power to redirect all of its revenues towards track improvements within the state.

 

Given how much NC has invested in the condition of the NCRR, I would say it's all but certain that NS would turn around and spend the money it had been spending on lease payments elsewhere, since the NCRR is already maintained to above the standard of the rest of its infrastructure.

 

I believe that the state ownership also makes it easier for NCDOT to carry out upgrades on the line, and furthermore these upgrades are then owned by the state - the investment improves the value of the state's own asset, rather than essentially being a transfer from the taxpayers of NC to the shareholders of Norfolk Southern.

 

If it were just a matter of operations then I might not disagree so much, but to me, it just doesn't make sense to sell it off when there are so many plans for improvements still in the works.

 

In the comparison between US and European railroads, you are missing the fact that neither the state nor the NCRR runs the freight trains. NCRR does not have a bloated operation; they have a very small staff that manages the company's real estate assets and infrastructure. They lease it to Norfolk Southern who gladly pays $14 million per year to operate its trains (privately) in the state.

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Track improvements can also be addressed by contract between a government entity and a private railroad.

 

Union Pacific, for example, is doing major upgrades to its track between Chicago and St. Louis due to state requests and HSR grants.  That track is privately owned.

 

My comparison between European RRs and US ones also applies to infrastructure.  For example, if I understand correctly, you're saying that NCRR would continue to invest in trackwork even though the track is already in good shape, but NS would not; if those investments would be made for freight, when the track is already sufficient to support freight operations, then further spending would be a waste.  NS will spend its money where the rate of return is highest, which is the best for the country as a whole.  (If the government wants to spend money on NC track improvements for passenger operations, then both NCRR and NS have shown that they'll take the money and make the improvements, just as Union Pacific is doing.)

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My primary concern with a possible sale of the NCRR is it will leave North Carolinians economically poorer over the long run. The primary benefits of passenger transportation are intangibles which cannot be captured by corporate balance sheets. Fast Intercity passenger rail makes cities more attractive places for business, and some economic growth will result in the connected cities. The economic impact of this growth will be felt in local employment markets, municipal property tax revenues, and state corporate and income tax revenues – while these economic benefits accrue over a long period to the state (broadly defined) a corporate transportation operator only sees the increased costs of more passenger service and, given competition with other heavily subsidized modes (e.g. auto and air) fares alone will never cover costs.

 

Since we really have no idea about the potential future demand for fast intercity passenger rail in NC having the state surrender control of the NCRR seems foolish from an economic perspective – without the NCRR NC will have no ability to encourage expanded service. Given that NS is highly unlikely to expand freight service on the route the short-term gain from an NCRR sale is not nearly worth the long term economic development loss in my opinion. A sale seems particularly foolish since there will (almost certainly) be only one bidder for the tracks so getting a true market price for the asset is unlikely.

 

A related concern is the size of the NCRR ROW (I believe that it is 8 tracks wide its entire length). NS would either ignore or sell the ROW beyond a two track width. I have much more confidence in the ability of NCRR to maintain that substantial ROW resource for potential future use than NS. 

 

In fantasyland the state could sell two track widths of the NCRR to NS and use that money to build a dedicated double track HSR  from Raleigh to Charlotte on a portion of the remaining ROW. Unfortunately I doubt such a trade would balance out (and the current administration would never allow it)

 

I do understand the McCrory was a pro-rail mayor in Charlotte. Unfortunately he has chosen to surround himself with cabinet members from the Art Pope / JLF tea party machine, a group that makes no secret of its haterd of passenger rail.  I think if gov Pat sticks to his principals of smart growth the state will keep the NCRR, but if the Pope crowd has as much infleuence over him as some say, then I fear that we will see the end of passenger rail in North Carolina.

Edited by kermit
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Track improvements can also be addressed by contract between a government entity and a private railroad.

This is true. But that process is slower, more expensive, and more difficult. Take this analogy. Is it easier to make improvements to your own home, or to get your landlord to make improvements to the home that you are renting (even if you are paying for it)?

 

In the former case you basically just go out and do it. It's just much easier to make improvements to property that you own yourself.

 

In the latter case, you have to convince the landlord that it is in his best interest regarding the long-term value of his property, negotiate a price that includes enough profit for him to make it worth his while when he wasn't already planning to make the improvements, wait for him to get around to it, etc.

 

I don't see how a publicly owned railroad, with a lot of plans for improvements related to publicly-operated passenger rail, especially one like the NCRR that has been publicly owned for 150+ years and for which all parties are perfectly happy with the arrangement, needs to be sold off and privatized. 

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This is true. But that process is slower, more expensive, and more difficult. Take this analogy. Is it easier to make improvements to your own home, or to get your landlord to make improvements to the home that you are renting (even if you are paying for it)?

 

In the former case you basically just go out and do it. It's just much easier to make improvements to property that you own yourself....

I don't see how a publicly owned railroad, with a lot of plans for improvements related to publicly-operated passenger rail, especially one like the NCRR that has been publicly owned for 150+ years and for which all parties are perfectly happy with the arrangement, needs to be sold off and privatized. 

The analogy of property that you own yourself vs. rented property is off-base. 

 

NS has a long-term agreement with NCRR that gives NS exclusive rights to run freight trains whenever it wants, restricts passenger trains on the line and puts NS in charge of maintenance.  So NCRR is in effect a commercial landlord, and NS is in effect a commercial tenant.  The commercial landlord can't just do whatever it wants with the property; the tenant has specific rights that it bargained for. 

 

In short, NCRR can't run whatever passenger trains it wants or make whatever improvements it wants; it needs NS to approve both.

 

NCRR Website Extract: "1999: Norfolk Southern (NSR) and NCRR reached an exclusive trackage right agreement for NSR to continue freight and maintenance operations on the NCRR line for 15 years renewable for an additional 30 years."

 

Also see below for information about how passenger trains can be operated only under certain conditions- such as non-interference with NS' trains:

 

http://www.ncrr.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/study-summary0522092.pdf

 

NCRR Extract: "The NCRR agreement with Norfolk Southern includes provisions for allowing shared freight and passenger use of the NCRR tracks so long as NS’s capacity for freight service to existing and future industries is protected...

 

It is absolutely essential for NCRR that the following principals be incorporated into any

proposal to use the NCRR corridor for passenger service:

 

* NCRR and NS must maintain the ability to serve existing and future freight customers 24/7 without delay"

 

And so why should North Carolina privatize the NCRR? 

 

Well, it's already subject to Norfolk Southern's needs, and so it's not fully in the public service anyhow; it's sort of a hybrid railroad.  And since NCRR isn't able to act unilaterally in the public's interest, you might as well get efficiency benefits by having it privately-owned, resulting in more tax revenues for NC than if it's publicly-run.  Most freight and passenger rail lines in the US are privately-owned, and even some passenger-only lines, such as many Metro-North lines around NYC, are privately owned (in that case, by the successor to the Penn Central railroad).  Even European countries are moving towards sort of privatizing their rail infrastructure.  NC shouldn't be a laggard.

Edited by mallguy
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^I suspect that mallguy is talking about track maintance and Orluz is talking about capital improvements....

 

A sign of things to come?

John Hood (one of Art Pope's employees) has an editorial in the Charlotte Business Journal calling for the sale of the NCRR.

http://www.bizjournals.com/charlotte/print-edition/2013/01/04/its-time-to-rid-the-rails.html

 

The Charlotte Observer has an editorial discussing other 'coincidental' policy correlations between McCrory and the JLF (just two days into his administration). If McCrory really is the new political arm of the JLF then NC intercity rail is going to have a _very_ limited lifespan.

 

http://obsdailyviews.blogspot.com/2013/01/locke-foundation-gov-mccrory-in-lock.html

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