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CAPT December 2011 Board Meeting Minutes

Carolinas Association for Passenger Trains
Board Meeting
Charleston County Main Library, Charleston, SC
December 10, 2011 Open - 12:40 P.M.
Present: Martin Wheeler, Gene Kirkland, John Bobinyec, Art Peterson, Jim Frierson, Larry Libater, Leon DeBaer, Ed Locklin, David Hill, Christine Wilkinson (CARTA), and Phil Astwood.

Action Items:
  • Jim will identify SC legislative committee chairs to receive the SC brochure and inserts
  • Jim will check list of municipal leaders in cities/towns along routes proposed in inserts
  • Gene will send CD of CAPT brochure to John to be placed on the website
  • Gene will send a thank you note & copies of the newsletter and brochure to recent donor
  • Martin will make corrections on the 2nd SC insert and get 1000 copies printed
  • Gene will check on mounting copies of the brochure in stations and welcome centers Gene will send copies of the CAPT brochure to NARP
  • John will set up a system to join CAPT and pay fees on line though our website
  • Gene, Martin & Ed will have the newsletter complete by Jan 15
  • Gene and Art will have February meeting info ready for the newsletter by Jan 15
  • Martin will send RUN information to Gene
1. Christine Wilkinson - (Interim Executive Director - Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority) Planning for the project to build the North Charleston Regional Transportation Facility has been underway for many years. The site is 36 acres near the intersection Montague Ave., Dorchester Road and I-26. The site has been acquired and an environmental assessment is complete. Receipt of several grants has allowed us to complete the parking areas and some landscaping including a large pond. We are currently working on the final design of the terminal building which will be reminiscent of the earlier Charleston terminal that burned in 1947. The building will contain 47,000 sq. ft. and serve Greyhound as well as Amtrak. The site is surrounded by 15 acres of developable land. Over the past year we have developed the construction drawings necessary to begin the building project and sought grant funds to cover some of the cost. To date the project has cost about $10 million. We have received a $6 million grant from FTA (Federal Transit Administration) and are seeking additional funds to cover the estimated final $17 million cost of the building. Some funds are expected to come from the development of the surrounding land. Drawings for all aspects of the building are nearly complete. It is planned to be very open, have lots of glass, and capture the elements of Charleston. We expect an 18 month construction schedule. This site is adjacent to the CSX yard and main line, but not easily accessible from NS. Due to its location, it is probably not a good fit for local passenger rail. However, the BCD COG has requested an alternatives analysis study (contract to Davis & Foyd) which will look at all transit possibilities in the area to include light rail, heavy rail, and BRT (bus rapid transit). This study should be complete in 9 months. Local express bus services are very active now and could provide a base for future rail. Local government is very positive about rail, and CAPT should stay in contact with the COG and support this. There is some interest in reviving streetcars. A few old cars have been found, but reestablishing streetcar routes would probably not be possible without outside funding. Overall local funding for transit is low (about $8 per capita) and statewide funding is also limited to about $6 million for the whole state from the16 cent per gallon gasoline tax. Only of one cent of that 16 cents per gallon goes to transit in SC. We need a funding plan that will allow easy application for federal funding. There is certainly a need for transit. Last month for the first time the system carried 413,000 riders, and figures for this month appear to be up about 50,000 from last year. The study by Wilbur Smith a few years ago showed a real interest in commuter rail and led to the current alternatives analysis. The earlier study showed a potential for 3,000 rail commuters per day. The political atmosphere favors rail due to serious congestion problems. For example, there is interest in establishing a BRT lane along Rivers Ave. that could be done now at a lower cost and converted to rail later.

2. Secretary's Report - Phil Astwood distributed the minutes of the October meeting via e-mail to Board members and as hardcopy at the meeting. A correction suggested earlier by John Bobinyec was made in the cost of renewing the website. Martin Wheeler suggested that the name "Airport City Trains Office" be removed from sec 11. The minutes were accepted as corrected.

3. Treasurer's Report - Gene Kirkland reported the treasury is doing well. Expenditures for printing and mailing came to just under $500. The CAPT Challenge fund was expended to cover the development and printing of the new brochure. The current total funds balance is $11,481.92. Gene is starting to mail out dues statements and plans to send 3-6 per day. The association currently has 189 members. The printer gave us a CD of the brochure. This will be sent to John Bobinyec who will make a copy and place it on the web site. Gene will send a copy of the brochure, a newsletter, and a thank you letter to a donor who recently contributed $5,000. The report was accepted.

4. Update on Past Legislation in North Carolina affecting Transit and Rail Passenger funding - There were two big success stories in last month s elections. A city bond issue for transportation passed in Raleigh that included funds for study and planning related to the new Raleigh station. Durham County passed a cent sales tax for transit. Both passed soundly with 60% or better voting in favor. Nothing new in the state legislature.

5. Update on Resolution Drive in South Carolina in Support of Expanded Rail Passenger Service - Phil Astwood has written a letter that will be sent along with an SC brochure and copies of the SC schedules to the city and county officials in all cities listed on the schedules. Jim Frierson will collect the appropriate names and addresses. Martin Wheeler suggested that the materials also be sent to COGs and to legislators representing the areas affected by the schedules. Martin passed out completed copies of the first schedule (Charlotte/Charleston) and passed out drafts of the newer schedule (Greenville/Myrtle Beach). He said he plans to move the upper boxes on the sheet and reposition the title to improve its overall appearance. Originally he and Bob Bischoff planned to use an abandoned rail section in Greenville that now appears to be unusable so they are proposing an alternate route that comes up along the old Charleston and Western Carolina line to Simpsonville. From there they plan to run parallel to the toll way (I-185) for 10 miles, pick up the NS, and come into the Greenville Amtrak station. This adds about five minutes to the schedule. Down to Columbia and Sumter will use the existing CSX line and then restore the former CSX line from Sumter to Timmonsville and Florence. From Florence to Marion the old rails still exist and from Marion to Mullins there is a section of abandoned right-of-way that could pretty easily be restored. At Mullins they plan to run parallel to the former Seaboard Air Line right-of-way for 3-4 miles to join the I-73 corridor where right-of-way in the median has already been dedicated for rail use. They plan to follow the corridor to just north of Conway. At that point they would follow route 322 and perhaps parts of the old right-of-way of the Atlantic Coast line to get into Conway. Then use the existing line to go from Conway to Myrtle Beach. The transit and commuter rail maps will not change much, but the yellow line between Greenville and Spartanburg (an earlier proposed intercity rail route) will be removed. The Columbia map will remain the same. The schedules are patterned after the ones on the first insert. On the front page is the service that would run from Greenville to Myrtle Beach and return the same day using one set of equipment. This would allow connections with the Crescent in Greenville and the Palmetto in Florence. On the reverse side are two other proposals. On the left is a flip flop in which the train originates in Myrtle Beach and returns in the evening. This would allow connections with the Palmetto and the Silver Meteor in Florence. The third schedule utilizes two train sets. One set runs commuter service Spartanburg to Greenville and then departs for Myrtle Beach. The other set runs from Cool Spring into Myrtle Beach and then departs for Greenville. Schedules include a dwell time of 3 minutes and a top speed is 79 mph, but most times are based on classic times. They have not yet addressed necessary signals or track improvements. Martin will make the corrections mentioned and print 1000 copies. The printer will make two CD s of these when complete. Larry Libater pointed out the times between Summerville and Charleston on the earlier schedule do not seem correct. Martin will check.

6. Mailings to NARP Members in the Carolinas - David Hill reviewed what he had done determining that there are about 310 members of NARP in the Carolinas who are not members of CAPT. He has a mailing list for these people and will send them a CAPT brochure, a membership application, and a letter inviting them to join. So far he has sent 100 and will send the remainder within a few days. The responses will come to Gene. David hopes that up to 25% will respond. He has already sent NARP membership information to the 77 members of CAPT who are not NARP members.

7. Update on recent Push by Central Midlands Coalition for Charlotte/Columbia Connection to the High Speed Rail Network Jim Frierson reported there was nothing new from the Central Midlands COG. Studies are planned, but they are waiting for funding. We need to send copies of the SC schedule inserts to the Central Midlands COG. Steve Benjamin (mayor of Columbia) is very pro transit and pro rail.

8. Discussion of Ways to Distribute the New CAPT Brochure Gene will put a picture of the brochure in the newsletter requesting that members take copies of the brochure to meetings and talk about it in a one-on-one approach. He has presented it at a number of meetings and gotten good questions. Gene has a meeting with the Amtrak station manager to make sure we can put newsletters and brochures in stations. Art Peterson did a program about his summer Amtrak trip at his local library with 20 in attendance. He handed out brochures there. He plans to ask if he can do a similar presentation at a Rotary meeting. It was suggested that Gene ask about putting a copy of parts of the brochure on the wall at various stations. At the last meeting Dan Scallen suggested we mount copies of the brochure on the walls at SC welcome centers. Gene will check on this. Gene will send completed copies of the brochure to NARP. Phil placed some copies of the brochure at the SC Railroad Museum.

9. Update on CAPT Newsletter and Website - Website As requested at the last meeting, John Bobinyec looked into the feasibility of CAPT having an online registration and fee payment system on the website. He looked at two companies: PayPal that would charge 85 cents per transaction, and the company NARP uses that has a flat fee of $60 per month. This would be too expensive for us. With PayPal, each person has an individual account that can be tied to a bank account or credit card. Money is transferred from the individual s account to the vendor's account at a charge of 85 cents per transfer. This is the only cost involved. The consensus was to try it. The Board decided that we would try using PayPal for one year after which we would evaluate its effect and we would also reevaluate our rate structure. Newsletter - Gene has two new masts for the newsletter for the Board to approve. He is not sure if they are available in color for the website. It was suggested that the locomotive on the mast match those used on the Piedmonts. Gene can change it. Gene has figures from Amtrak on station use and train ridership which are surprisingly high. Boardings at Raleigh, for example, went from 115,000 to 174,000 in five years. As for funding, Amtrak has received less money over its entire 40 year existence ($37.5 billion) than the federal government spent on highways in one year ($40 billion last year). Gene promised to have the newsletter out by the end of the year. It will include information on meetings. John pointed out that if people join or pay dues on line they could provide their own password and the website could be divided into public and private sections with the newsletter available in the private section. Thus no need to send it to people who wish to receive it electronically. This will also solve the problem of trying to keep e-mails correct. The target date to complete the newsletter should be Jan 15 and thus we need to have February meeting information by then. Ed Locklin will put the newsletter together. Type size should not be smaller than 12 point. Martin will check and the final copy will go to Gene for mailing. Meeting notice will be a short note on the front with details inside

10. Amtrak Update - In relation to his trip, Art Peterson said that car attendants told him that Border Patrol agents ride some trains, but passengers are not obligated to communicate with them about anything. Gene said wi/fi works well on the 'Carolinian', but some passengers do not realize it is not available on the Piedmonts.

11. North Carolina Transit Update - John reported that over the Thanksgiving weekend, the Cary parking lot was very full. Gene said that on Sunday after Thanksgiving all 4 Piedmonts were sold out with people sitting in the food service car. There are three organizations in the Raleigh area supporting transit and rail. One of these (Wake Up Wake County) will speak to us at the February meeting in Cary. Gene will check with the Cary Chamber of Commerce about a place for the meeting. Gene said the Amtrak Bus connection from High Point to Winston Salem works very well. Martin reported a lot of riders on the light rail due to recent events in Charlotte. The fleet status report shows some light rail cars with over 200,000 miles. Each 2-car train can carry at least 300 passengers. Art mentioned that Progressive Railroads had an insert covering all passenger rail service in the country with a lot of information about transit systems. Gene said that it has been very helpful to have bus service at the Charlotte station. Martin talked about the three main projects now active in Charlotte: The Charlotte Street Car, the Red Line, and the Blue Line extension. The "starter" street car project that will run down Trade Street has some track already in place. It is a $37 million project; a combination of federal and city funds. It is 65% designed and will run from the arena, past the Government Center, down McDowell Street, to Piedmont Community College, and over to Presbyterian Hospital. The time schedule calls for completion of design by July of 2012, utility relocation by fall, and start of construction in December of 2012 after the Democratic National Convention is over. They expect passenger service by March of 2015. They will use the old green and yellow Charlotte Trolley cars before newer ones are acquired. This is part of a much larger project to cover some of the highest travel routes in the city. The Blue Line extension to the University area is presently 65% designed. The state has approved the funding agreement that will commit the state to cover 25% of the project s cost of about $1 billion. Freight crossing, station and bridge issues are being resolved. The old NS intermodal freight yard will be closed soon and moved to the airport by the end of 2015. CATS will be getting access to the Brevard St yard. There have been some minor questions about historic properties. Start of service is set for 2016. Construction should start in 2014. Design work expected to be complete by the end of 2012. An effort is being made to avoid the problems with signals and crossings that have caused trouble on the existing south line. They plan for 27 minutes in running time from downtown to the University with 48 minutes for the total trip end to end. The Red line from Charlotte to Mooresville is currently held up by lack of funding. Federal money is available for light rail and transit, but not for commuter rail. They are now working with NCDOT to create a unified benefit district that would be able to collect the necessary funds. The project will cost $452 million and be complete by 2017 if all goes as planned. 25% of the funding will come from CATS sales tax, 25% from the state DOT, and 50% from local services (tax instrument finance and special assessment district tax). CATS expects some signal improvements in January to limit cab signal loss on the light rail. Martin rode the Norfolk light rail in Virginia (The Tide). They use the same cars as Charlotte. They run on the old NS right-of-way. The station for the new Amtrak service will be across the street from the light rail station. In conversation with Don Stewart, Martin found that Fayetteville is building a new multimodal transit center that will be 2 blocks from the Amtrak station. .

12. Reports by Officers and Directors -
  • Ed Locklin Got notice for public hearings concerning double tracking to occur near his house.
  • Leon DeBaer Amtrak got $3 million for repair at Charlotte. Mostly ADA stuff.
  • Jim Frierson Attended the opening of the Clemson area transit center that has a kiosk for Amtrak and Greyhound tickets and schedule information. This is supposed to be greenest transit center in country (Solar heated water, recycled bus wash water, permeable parking lot pavement, hybrid buses). The Clemson bus system claims to be the largest fare-free system in country. It is paid for by student fees and taxes.
  • John Bobinyec City of Burlington (#1893) showed up a week ago running in tandem. This is the last "new" engine.
  • Gene Kirkland Two new food service cars should be available at the start of year and 4 new coaches two months later. The Burlington station platform is finished and the parking lot is about 60% done.
  • Martin Wheeler David Peter Allen at RUN (Rail Users Network) asked for a speaker at their conference in Washington in April for an update on rail developments in the Carolinas. Gene will do this and Martin will send him information about it.
13. Planning for Future Meetings February 11 Cary (Art & Gene will set this up), April 14 - Burlington, June 9 - Columbia, August 11 - High Point, October 13 - Spartanburg, December 8 - Raleigh

Adjourn - 3:50 P.M.