City supporting passenger rail service system

Charles Warner cwarner@civitasmedia.com

January 24, 2014

UNION — A proposal to increase passenger rail service in South Carolina has gained the support of Union City Council.

Council voted unanimously Tuesday to approve a resolution supporting “the creation of a comprehensive passenger rail system to serve the state of South Carolina with its ultimate objective to further economic opportunity, help preserve the environment, improve the quality of life and enhance public health, safety and welfare for all citizens, communities and regions.”

The resolution was prepared and submitted to the city for consideration and approval by the Carolinas Association for Passenger Trains (CAPT), a rail passenger advocacy organization which is working to promote intercity and commuter rail services in North Carolina and South Carolina.

In a letter to Mayor Harold Thompson, CAPT President Martin L. Wheeler Jr. and S.C. Vice President Jim Frierson state that their organization “believes that increased passenger rail service is vital to South Carolina’s economy. … Rail passenger service such as envision could have a real and lasting effect on the Union area by providing increased mobility for your citizens, increased access to your community, and improved freight as well as passenger service.”

Wheeler and Frierson state that “this is an auspicious time to act because former Charlotte mayor Anthony Foxx, a strong advocate for rail transportation, has recently been confirmed as US Secretary of Transportation. Under Mayor Foxx’s guidance Charlotte continued to expand its light rail system, designed a new trolley system, and initiated work on a multimodal transportation center to serve Charlotte’s eight passenger trains as well as improved bus and trolley service.”

The construction of the passenger rail service envisioned by CAPT would also have a positive economic impact according to Wheeler and Frierson.

“As our economy recovers from the recession, building passenger rail service is an infrastructure investment that will pay off right away in jobs and improved mobility, and it will continue to pay off later as South Carolina shows it is ready to play part in building high-speed rail lines and participating in transportation systems of the future.”

In addition to the letter and resolution, CAPT also provided the city with routes the proposed system would follow including a Charlotte-to-Columbia-to-Charleson route, the main line of which would also include stops at Rock Hill, Chester, Winnsboro, St. Matthews, Orangeburg, Branchville, St. George, and Summerville.

Another route would run from Greenville-to-Columbia-to-Florence-to-Myrtle Beach and would include stops at Fountain Inn, Laurens, Clinton, Newberry, Sumter, Timmonsville, Florence, Marion, Mullins, and Conway. One of the secondary lines that would run off this line would run through Spartanburg and Union en route to Columbia.

Thompson said that while all these routes are only proposed at the present time, they nevertheless provide an opportunity for Union to get involved in their future development and reap the rewards that could follow from it.

“This is a good opportunity for Union County to be on the front end of supporting this proposed project,” Thompson said. “I commend council for looking ahead into the future.”

The information provided by CAPT also discusses the proposed Southeast High Speed Rail Corridor (SEHSR) which is being promoted by a coalition composed of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. The states are seeking to “plan, develop and implement” SEHSR which will be a “federally designated rail corridor” which will “extend the high speed rail service on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor southward to Richmond and Raleigh. There it will split,with one route going by way of Charlotte and Greenville-Spartanburg, and the other to Jacksonville, FL, by way of Columbia and Savannah.”

SEHSR’s development will depend “upon the commitment of the individual states involved. As with the interstate highway system, each state is responsible for those portions of the corridor which falls within its boundaries.”

The information provided by CAPT points out that “in an incremental approach to High Speed Rail, North Carolina is presently developing the Charlotte-to-Raleigh segment of the corridor. Virginia is developing the Richmond-to-Washington segment.”

It further points out that in the United States, high speed rail service “is considered time-competitive with travel by automobile or airplane within the context of door-to-door trips. As a result, train speed will vary from corridor to corridor. In the SEHSR corridor, this will be a top speed of 110 mph.”

Charles Warner can be reached at 864-427-1234, Ext. 14.