February 3, 2024 at 9:58 a.m.

On The Right Track

Trains an important part of North Carolina’s transportation
An Amtrak train runs through Gastonia.
An Amtrak train runs through Gastonia.
(Contributed Photos)

All aboard!

For more than 175 years, trains have played a crucial role in North Carolina’s transportation system.

And locally, in Gaston County, Amtrak operates a station at 350 Hancock St. in Gastonia. 

According to Melina Druga, writing recently in Transportation Today, it was four years ago that Amtrak commenced a major $3.2 million project to improve the facility. The renovation work included a new 360-foot concrete platform that is handicapped-accessible and has railings, lighting and signs, along with ramps and parking stalls. The station has a new entrance with an automatic door and a renovated, heated waiting room and a lavatory. In April of last year, the project was completed. The upgrades are in full compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (or ADA).

Druga continues that the Gastonia station is operated by Amtrak as an unstaffed flag stop. This means that customers must have booked reservations in order for the train to stop. It provides inter-city rail service via the Crescent. The station opens an hour before train arrival time and closes a half an hour after the train leaves.

As for the Crescent, it’s a daily long-distance passenger train operated by Amtrak. It travels between New York City and New Orléans, named for the French city of Orléans and known throughout the American South as the “Crescent City,” hence the name of the train. The 1,377-mile route connects the Northeast to the Gulf Coast via the Appalachian Piedmont, with major stops in Charlotte, Atlanta and Birmingham, Ala.

Travelling by train? According to North Carolina by Train, each passenger may carry only two pieces of baggage aboard a train. This does not include purses, laptop computers, strollers, etc. Bags may not weigh more than 50 pounds each and may not exceed a size of 28-by-22-by-14 inches. Passengers must be able to safely carry their own baggage. And nota bene: each carry-on bag must have tags with the passenger’s name, address and telephone number.

Just down the road in the Queen City, located at 1914 N. Tryon St., is Charlotte’s Amtrak station. Fully staffed and featuring handicapped-accessible restrooms, vending machines, ticket kiosks and an ATM, this station is more than 60 years old, and it supersedes one built some 60 years before that and razed during the Johnson Administration.

And rail travel has never been safer. According to Amtrak, the company is working hard to protect America’s railroads and improve resiliency of passenger rail-service across the country. Through a multi-layered approach, Amtrak uses enhanced security measures to make it harder for those who wish to harm passengers, employees, equipment and facilities to do so, and it ensures an efficient response to potential threats. This multi-layered approach includes deployment of Amtrak Police Department officers and intelligence gathering activities; protection of critical rail assets through targeted access-control and infrastructure protection measures; security awareness, training and exercises; consistent engagement with first-responders and transit partners; and security program planning that is rooted in risk-management principles to ensure effective implementation of mitigation strategies.

All these efforts are led collaboratively by the Amtrak Emergency and the Amtrak Police Department (or APD). Both entities work in close involvement with the leadership of all departments across Amtrak.

Long-range improvements down the track

By attracting new riders, serving new communities and transforming passenger rail, Amtrak aims to double its ridership by 2040.

And this year, according to Amtrak, the company is advancing several key initiatives as part of its goal of doubling annual ridership to 66 million within the next 16 years. Building significant momentum, Amtrak plans to progress substantially on these goals, according to its CEO, Stephen Gardner. He recently explicated this further.

“Amtrak has rebounded from the pandemic and is growing again as part of our plan to double ridership by 2040,” Gardner said. “With funding from the infrastructure bill in hand, we and our partners are transforming inter-city passenger rail across the country in a big way.”

Amtrak President Roger Harris also weighed in. Harris said the company is advancing historic infrastructure investments that will, with the help of partners, launch new and expanded services, advance safety and reliability, improve accessibility, drive economic development and enhance the customer experience.

“Amtrak is working on two overarching objectives in 2024: improving passenger train service for our customers efficiently and effectively and carrying out a massive major infrastructure capital program, aimed to modernize and upgrade our infrastructure, stations, fleet and technology,” he said. “As both a passenger rail service-provider and a major construction company, we are quickly growing and evolving to deliver on both.”

Want to know more? Chug on over to the Website at www.amtrak.com.



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