08/17/07 — The trains are coming back to Goldsboro

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The trains are coming back to Goldsboro

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on August 17, 2007 1:46 PM

Al King remembers walking along the tracks in Mount Olive more than 50 years ago -- hopping, occasionally, on a train bound for the Wayne County seat.

"Getting to Goldsboro, man, it was an excursion," he said. "Our family, we didn't have cars."

There was something almost "magical" about a ride down the line -- and the final approach to Union Station.

So when the mayor announced the sale of Goldsboro's historic depot to the North Carolina Department of Transportation as part of the state's Historic Station Restoration and Preservation Program this morning, he called it an "historic day," one he said will set the stage for the rebirth of long range, intercity passenger rail service through town.

DOT has been eyeing purchase of the station since May 2000, when a task force was formed to research the feasibility of passenger rail service from Raleigh to Wilmington.

* When will work on the station begin: Actual restoration construction is expected to begin July 2008.

* When will construction be completed: Completion date, contingent upon funding, is scheduled for June 2010.

* How much will the renovation of the station cost: $4 to $8 million.

* How will this money be raised: Through grants, specifically ones from the Federal Highway Administration's Transportation, Community and System Preservation Program.

* What will this project cost the city of Goldsboro: Depending on what uses are housed at Union Station, the city would be responsible for a 10 to 20 percent match of grant monies awarded.

* What will be housed there: Golds-boro-Wayne Transportation Authority, Goldsboro Police Department's Crime Prevention unit and, potentially, the Downtown Goldsboro Development Corp. and Greyhound.

* Does this mean passenger rail will definitely run through Goldsboro: Department of Transportation officials say, "yes."

* When will this service become operational: Goldsboro Mayor Al King estimates four years before passenger rail service is a reality.

When Downtown Goldsboro Development Corp. Executive Director Julie Thompson got wind of the move, she traveled to Raleigh with local historian Charlie Gaylor.

"We went up and met with them and found out that yes, a study was going on," Gaylor said. "They were going to determine whether to come through Goldsboro or Fayetteville."

Within a few weeks of the meeting, local officials formed their own group, hoping a show of commitment from the town's leadership and residents might help the decision swing toward Wayne County.

Gaylor was named president of the committee.

"We realized that if it did come through Goldsboro, that would mean the tracks would be put back in between Castle Hayne and Wallace," he said. "That would reopen the north/south connector that runs all the way up from Wilmington up into Richmond and beyond."

Like King, he, too, remembers departing Union Station.

"For somebody who had never really traveled by train, it was a great experience," Gaylor said of a trip from Goldsboro to Baltimore he took as a teenager. "I really enjoyed it."

But news of DOT's purchase means more than a chance to relive old memories, he added.

"It's not just nostalgic. Now, it's also a major economic engine," Gaylor said. "The economic benefits are fairly obvious."

Mrs. Thompson agrees.

The prospect of passenger and commuter rail through Goldsboro should provide "additional economic stability" downtown.

"It opens up a whole new set of possibilities for this community," she said.

Passenger rail service brings with it an opportunity for airmen from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base to travel with more ease, would allow the elderly to visit Triangle hospitals and might encourage potential commuters to buy property in the area.

More importantly, though, it shows residents and business-owners that local -- and now state -- leaders believe in Goldsboro's future, she said.

* 1909 -- Union Station, designed by Wilmington architect Joseph Leitner, who was, at the time, the architect for the Atlantic Coast Line, is opened for business. The cost of construction was $72, 024.

* 1914 -- Goldsboro won a decision in the U.S. Supreme Court, whereby the city was enabled to enforce its rights in the regulation of trains and the shifting of railroad cars on Center Street.

* 1926 -- The railroad tracks were forcibly removed from Center in the middle of the night by a band of citizens.

* 1968 -- Following the termination of rail passenger service to and from Goldsboro, Union Station was closed.

* 1977 -- The station is placed on the National Register of Historic Places

* Today -- DOT officials announce its purchase of the station and disclose intentions to renovate the building to create a multimodal transportation hub and, potentialy, allow for the rebirth of passenger rail service from Raleigh to Wilmington, through Goldsboro.

"I think the businesses and property owners, in the last three years, have seen an increase in the commitment of city leaders," Mrs. Thompson said. "I think this will just underline that. I mean, we've been talking about it for seven years. Nobody actually believed it would happen. People thought Charlie and I were dreaming."

And now that the first step has been taken, Gaylor said he believes people across the state will see why local officials invested so much time and effort into the railroad.

"It's a significant event for Goldsboro, no question," he said. "This is a very important first step, not just for Goldsboro, but for Eastern North Carolina at large. And the people in Western North Carolina who have passenger rail service already should be just as excited because it gives them more destinations. It adds possibilities."

But first things first.

Preliminary estimates show a cost of between $4 and $8 million to renovate the facility, Mrs. Thompson said.

Once completed, Union Station will operate as a multimodal transportation center -- housing GATEWAY buses, the Goldsboro Police Depart-ment's Crime Prevention unit and, potentially, Greyhound.

And before a passenger rail can make it through Goldsboro, improvements will need to be made along the line.

Mrs. Thompson said she expects work to begin "within weeks or months," and that rail service is no longer a dream, but rather a reality for the near future.

"Right now, we're still trying to figure out all the different uses that are going to be housed in it," she said. "But one thing we do know for sure is that DOT's Passenger Rail Division acquired the depot. The deed has been recorded. It's done."

Gaylor said no matter what officials decide to house there, he is confident that DOT's move has opened the door for a trip to the coast and beyond, from Goldsboro, via train.

"It's not going to happen tomorrow, but it will happen," he said. "That's the key. It will happen. We're not saying we've finished the job, but everything is now in place. It's no longer a matter of will it happen, it's a matter of when."

And his hope is that the when is sooner than later.

"I think that this sends a message that we are serious about moving forward in Goldsboro and Wayne County," Gaylor said. "I mean, Goldsboro used to be 'The gateway to the East,' that is what it was called. Now, I don't think that is going to change. This is (a public building) that has been lost over the years because it has not been used. We're about to recapture that."