News & Reviews News Wire Special Report on Amtrak round trips: North Carolina to add another Piedmont trip in July

Special Report on Amtrak round trips: North Carolina to add another Piedmont trip in July

By Bob Johnston | May 24, 2023

Third trainset of heritage cars to become part of the rotation cycle

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Amtrak round trips

blue and white train
Amtrak round trips: A southbound morning Piedmont approaches Salisbury, N.C., on May 31, 2014. Bob Johnston

RALEIGH, North Carolina — Tickets are now available for five Amtrak round trips between Raleigh and Charlotte, N.C. for travel beginning July 10. This includes the state-sponsored Charlotte-New York Carolinian and four Piedmont departures. The Raleigh-Charlotte trains are the only service on Amtrak’s network that continues to utilize refurbished heritage coaches built for other railroads before the national passenger carrier’s inception in 1971.

More frequencies; new timetable

man in suit smiling in front of photo
Rail Division Director Jason Orthner. Bob Johnston

The July 10 schedule, available on North Carolina Rail Division’s website, shortens what are now 5-hour midday and afternoon gaps to 3 hours or less while creating a key 5:30 p.m. Charlotte departure where in place of current choices of 3:15 p.m. or 7 p.m.

The service outcome agreement North Carolina finalized with Amtrak and Norfolk Southern in connection with a $520 million capacity upgrade of the 173-mile corridor jump-started with funding from 2009’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act permitted the additional round trip.

“Coming out of the pandemic, clearly the demand is strongly there, and we wanted to take advantage of that opportunity now,” Rail Division Director Jason Orthner tells Trains News Wire. October 2022 through April 2023, ridership and revenue with the current schedule are up 48% and 39%, respectively, over the same period in fiscal 2022.

For the first time, four Piedmont trains have shorter travel times by selectively skipping some stations. Orthner says considerations of which stops to skip attempt to balance operational factors related to platform and crossover availability with ridership potential and faster trips.

With all trains not serving every station, he intends to make downloadable PDF grid schedules available on NC By Train website (Note: the new schedule must be converted to a photo to print). Neither the state nor Amtrak’s site show comparative schedules currently. “The grid is a convenient way to convey information, and we do provide them in paper form now at stations for the communities we serve,” Orthner says.

Equipment shuffle

blue and white train with wheat and trees in background
Amtrak round trips: A southbound Piedmont speeds through a grade separation project north of Charlotte, N.C., on Sept. 17, 2015. At the time, corridor infrastructure improvements being made paved the way for additional Amtrak round-trips to begin in July 2023. Bob Johnston

vending machine in train
A Piedmont lounge car has vending machines for snacks and plenty of table space. Bob Johnston

Adding the fourth Piedmont round trip means cars that periodically were cycled into consists now comprise a third trainset. Orthner says, “The only significant change in maintenance procedures is to make sure we have three ready sets each day instead of two.”

The state’s roster includes 8 locomotives, 5 cab control units, 14 coaches, and 5 baggage lounge cars where vending machines offer onboard snacks and beverages.

He points out, “If something goes wrong on one of the two basic sets of three coaches and lounge running now, we have to assemble a third set in the yard and get it to the Raleigh station; with the new schedule it will be baked into the operation.” Spare coaches will still be available for demand surges, such as accommodating Carolina Panthers crowds.

North Carolina’s heritage fleet has provided reliable mobility for Piedmont patrons since previous North Carolina leaders such as Pat Simmons, Paul Worley, and Allan Paul acquired and refurbished mostly ex-Union Pacific and Kansas City Southern cars during the last three decades. This has been especially true lately as Amtrak and other state partners have encountered challenges deploying and maintaining enough equipment to meet demand.

Future expansion on Amtrak round trips

interior view of coach with people at a table
Amtrak round trips: The interior of one of North Carolina’s heritage coaches on a July 23, 2018, Piedmont trip. Bob Johnston

The Carolinian has always run with Amfleet, and will be among the first trains to get Siemens-built Airo trainsets as a part of the large Amtrak order.

“We’re excited that the state landed the second Siemens plant [“Siemens to build $220 million railcar factory in North Carolina,” March 7, 2023 News Wire], Orthner says. When funding is available, Airo is being considered because the long-range vision for this system is to not keep it captive to Raleigh-Charlotte but to expand north of Raleigh on the now-abandoned former Seaboard ‘S-Line’ and other regional corridors.

The state submitted requests this year to fund 12 potential routes under the Federal Railroad Administration’s Corridor ID program. “Requests for passenger rail expansion are coming in from all parts of the state,” Orthner reveals. One proposal is an extension through South Carolina to Atlanta; another is for the S-Line to Petersburg, Va., which already received 2022 federal funds to a state match for preliminary engineering.

“We applied this year for an FRA federal-state partnership construction grant for the (17-mile) S-Line segment from Raleigh to Wake Forest, N.C. The goal is to develop serviceable sections that will allow extending Piedmont service north,” says Orthner, pointing out, “it is the most complicated segment where we have already received federally-matched grants for highway grade separation construction.”

Also on tap is moving to downtown Charlotte, where the Rail Division completed Phase I trackwork but the city still needs to partner with a developer for a multi-modal facility.

In the meantime, as other regions and the Federal Railroad Administration contemplate more U.S. rail corridors, the upcoming additional Piedmont round-trip exemplifies how passenger rail can become an integral part of transportation mobility if a state is willing to invest in hands-on management and sufficient equipment to meet demand.

9 thoughts on “Special Report on Amtrak round trips: North Carolina to add another Piedmont trip in July

  1. (Read the 2nd paragraph 1st!!) …. recently lost a coach. Amtrak is unwilling to be flexible when it comes to long distance lines. They could suspend one of the Chicago to Carbondale trains or better yet take the speed restriction so it could pull all those empty Superliners that it continues to waist for axle counts on that route and reserve them for long distance lines where they belong. They could immediately add a very badly needed second coach to the Capitol Limited or even a third. But we all know that Amtrak loves its state supported routes much more than its long haul routes which is why they continue to ignore revenue generating opportunities that exist for the long haul lines.

  2. Meanwhile tight capacity remains on the long distance lines for yet another summer. While the Southwest Chief did gain an additional coach and the Zephyr and Empire each gained an additional sleeping car. Nothing has really changed that much overall, the Capitol Limited has once again been cut to an abysmal three car train. Only one sleeping car, a diner, and one coach and a baggage car. The Texas Eagle still remains without it’s sightseer lounge and transition car, and the Sunset Limited

  3. The Carolinian has had its share of mechanical delays using Amtrak equipment. I cannot remember that the Piedmonts have had any mechanical delays. Maybe one or two. NC RR should keep its present equipment for backup given Amtrak’s terrible maintenance record of its equipment.

  4. While I certainly understand the excitement of adding new train routes and modifying the schedule, to reduce service (selectivity skipping stations) to those of us that are regular riders is frustrating. For the first train out of Raleigh, please add BNC back as a stop for what shows as Train 71. This arrival and departure is vital for those us getting to work in Burlington as well as Greensboro. As a suggestion, the next train out of Raleigh, could be modified with less stops and marketed as an express train.

    Please add Burlngton (BNC) as a stop on the first train out of Raleigh.

    1. People also use the morning train #73 to reach High Point (HPT) and Salisbury (SAL). With the proposed schedule change, you cannot reach these three towns before lunchtime.

      This change decreases the options for commuting by train from the Triangle to the Piedmont. Presently RGH, CYN, DNC passengers can travel between six piedmont destinations. If these proposed changes stick, that number drops to three.

      Let NC by Rail know your thoughts 919.707.4700

  5. Of course NS was willing to work with NC. Millions of dollars have gone into upgrading this route. The beauty of this is the state owns the railroad and leases it to NS. So the state has a bit more leverage. BUT, North Carolina puts the lease money back into the railroad.

    1. I understand the proceeds from the NCRR lease go into a fund which ALL railroads (especially short lines, not necessarily NCRR) operating in NC can apply for. These funds are intended for infrastructure improvements.

  6. A key point is that only the Carolinian is a “true” AMTRAK train. The other Piedmont trains consist of state equipment and is not subject to AMTRAK maintenance, acquisition, and scheduling. I have fond memories of “heritage” equipment and was disappointed at how the Amfleet cars seemed a downgrade.

  7. Great news and encouraging developments in increased rail service. As a railfan and train lover, I always rejoice when hearing these good news events of growing and expanding passenger rail travel. Also it is encouraging to see a spirit of cooperation between the states like North Carolina and a freight railroad in this case Norfolk Southern and with the promise of new equipment for this service. Now hopefully Amtrak can deliver on their promise of increased service and modern trainsets and keep and maintain this level of service. People are ready and willing to once again travel by train and recent studies and numbers prove this. As a famous quote from a classic movie “If you build it, they will come” So be it with expanded and improved passenger rail service “If you provide it and make it accessible and attractive, people will take the train and come back again and ride it on a regular basis”
    Joseph C. Markfelder

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