In the 1970s, the dominance of the automobile and the resulting lack of ridership sounded the death knell for Asheville’s passenger rail service. Now, however, the city is the most requested destination in the country that’s not served by Amtrak, reports Judy Calvert, who chairs the WNC Passenger Rail Corridor Committee.
The group has been working with the state Department of Transportation (and putting pressure on legislators) to bring passenger rail service back to Asheville. As envisioned, Amtrak would run the service on Norfolk Southern Railroad’s tracks. The line would start in Salisbury, stopping in Hickory, Valdese, Morganton, Marion, Old Fort and Black Mountain en route, Calvert reports. The site for the Asheville station has been chosen (next to Biltmore Village), though the land has yet to be purchased.
Reborn passenger rail service would help the environment by taking cars off the road, while boosting the economy by bringing tourists to town, says Calvert.
The proposal has made it onto the DOT Rail Division’s agenda, and last year, federal and state funds were set aside to help make the project a reality. But the state’s budget crisis has rendered all state funding less certain, and the Passenger Rail Committee is trying to make sure the funding earmarked for the project remains intact. Meanwhile, Congress is supposed to vote this year on whether to authorize Amtrak’s continued existence as the country’s only provider of intercity train service, according to the Associated Press.
Calvert, however, remains committed, declaring: “We feel this service is a vital part of our existence in the western part of the state, economically and environmentally. We want the service — end of story.”