Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Hear that train a-comin'

Those of us who have to travel between Raleigh and Charlotte from time to time get weary of the traffic on the Interstates or the stoplights that dot the U.S. 64-49 route across the central part of the state. With gas prices staying high, many of us have yearned for a fast train trip linking the city centers.
The passenger trains called the Carolinian and the Piedmont aren’t quite there yet, but they're getting close. State transportation officials say the average time for the Raleigh-Charlotte run is now three hours and nine minutes – making it competitive with driving and faster than driving if a pit stop is necessary. As the online schedule shows, you can leave Raleigh at 7:05 a.m. and be in Charlotte at 10:14 a.m. – for one-way fares as low as $22.
Now the public appears to be responding to the quicker trip – which once took upwards of four hours – and to high gasoline prices. The DOT’s Rail Division reported in a news release last week that ridership in June was up more than 30 percent over a year ago. The Piedmont, which runs between Raleigh and Charlotte both ways daily, was up 38 percent to 4,442 riders; the Carolinian, which runs between those cities and goes on to the northeast, was up 31 percent to 20,628 riders. “Ridership was strongest on the weekends,” DOT said.
Nationally, the state DOT said, ridership on state-supported trains was up 7.4 percent – and up 4.1 percent for long-distance trains.
Former Gov. Jim Hunt wanted DOT to make enough track, train and signal improvements to cut the travel time between the states’ capitals of commerce and government to two hours before he left office in 2001. That was simply beyond reach, and reducing it to a couple of hours by 2010 might be tough, too. But as the state whittles the travel time below three hours and keeps lopping off the minutes with faster service, it will likely find that ridership will continue to grow.

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