Back on Track
May 01, 2015 11:52AM
● By Jason Huddle
The railroad will be forever linked to this country’s history, first as a means to reach the unrealized west, then as a luxurious mode of travel.In the U.S., the first railroad tracks were laid in the east in the first half of the 19th century. In 1869, the Central Pacific Railroad was completed in the west. This milestone meant people and freight could be transported cross-country.
Shortly thereafter – from the 1880s to 1920s – the American railroad experienced its “Golden Age.” Eventually, however, car and plane transportation dominated and rail travel hit bottom in the 1960s and ‘70s.
Then, in 1970, the U.S. Congress introduced Amtrak. Strictly as passenger rail, Amtrak took the place of private railroad companies that had operated in the red for years.
“Amtrak is a federally-chartered corporation, with the federal government as majority stockholder. The board is appointed by the President of the United States and confirmed by the U.S. Senate, and Amtrak is operated as a for-profit company, rather than a public authority,” according to Amtrak.com.
While Kannapolis relied heavily on the railroad for its textile industry, both with passengers and freight, “more than 85 percent of North Carolina’s railroad stations have been demolished since World War II due to the decline of passenger rail traffic,” according to highpointnc.gov.
The 1980s saw state government support across the board for passenger rail and, in 1990, the Highway Trust Fund financially aided getting The Carolinian rolling from Charlotte to Raleigh, and on to New York City. The Piedmont followed five years later, offering a route that covered Raleigh to Charlotte and back; The Piedmont is state-owned while The Carolinian is state-financed.
The passing of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) in the 1990s meant restoration and new construction for train stations all over the state, and compliance with the Americans for Disability (ADA) regulations. In 1998, the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) designated the stretch of tracks between Washington, D.C., and Charlotte as a high-speed rail corridor.
These advancements were followed in 2010 by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), an $8-billion fund for the revitalization of high-speed rail. North Carolina was named one of the recipient states, which meant improvements for the Kannapolis stop. The expanse between Charlotte and Raleigh alone was earmarked for $520 million; a Kannapolis platform canopy installed in 2013 to protect riders from the elements came from this fund as well.
“This new federal investment represents a major leap forward in making high-speed rail a reality in North Carolina. According to state and federal officials, the project is expected to create or maintain 4,800 jobs in the state’s private sector,” kannapolisnc.gov said at the time.
Already in place when these improvements were made was a new Kannapolis station. Located at 120 South Main Street, it opened in December 2004. The NCDOT Rail Division provided 90 percent of the funding for the $3.1-million facility while the City of Kannapolis contributed $105,000; Cabarrus County, $60,000; and the Cannon Foundation, $75,000.
In 2014, 18,292 passengers took the train from Kannapolis to their destination. This amounted to $643,256 in station revenue. The 2015 schedule sees The Piedmont running two trains
daily between Raleigh and Charlotte at a cost of $35 to $47 each way and with a travel time of three hours and 11 minutes. The Carolinian heads from Charlotte to New York each morning, and New York to Charlotte each evening; Wi-Fi® is available on The Carolinian. Amtrak trains typically travel at speeds of about 100m.p.h.
With the City of Kannapolis purchasing 46 acres of downtown property, the goal is a vibrant mixed use of business, retail and residential development. This could well enhance the need for passenger rail travel. The North Carolina Research Campus (NCRC) plays into that as well.
The NCRC is already home to researchers from Duke University, NC A&T, NC Central University, NC State and UNC Chapel Hill, among others. High-speed rail provides a quicker and easier commute. “Employees and visitors to the North Carolina Research Campus (NCRC) will be the big beneficiaries of high-speed rail due to the strong education and research link between the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill (area) and Kannapolis,” kannapolisnc.gov says.
Amtrak brought in about $2.87 billion in revenue in fiscal year 2012, but had nearly $4.04 billion in expenses. In fiscal year (FY) 2013, the company, “covered 89 percent of operating costs with ticket sales and other revenue,” according to Amtrak.com. “Amtrak receives funding from 18 states under 19 operating agreements for financial support of 29 short-distance routes (less than 750 miles).
“Fueled by Amtrak’s valued partnership with its state partners, state-supported routes posted their best-year-ever ridership in FY ‘13 with 15.4 million passengers. States that provide funding and the routes on which some or all service is state-supported during FY 2013: North Carolina – Carolinian (Charlotte- Washington) and Piedmont service (Raleigh-Charlotte).”
The U.S. High Speed Rail Association cites “faster, more efficient mobility, enormous energy savings and reduced environmental damage” as reasons to support and utilize rail travel. If lines expand as hoped – possibly linking the U.S. to Mexico – thousands, if not millions, of jobs will become available. Road traffic (and accidents) will be reduced, as will gas emissions and the consumption of oil.
So, the next time you plan a trip to our state capital or beyond, consider enjoying the scenery as a passenger on a train. For more information, visit www.ncbytrain.org.