05/27/12 — Passenger rail discussions still chugging along

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Passenger rail discussions still chugging along

By Steve Herring
Published in News on May 27, 2012 1:50 AM

On-again, off-again discussions about passenger rail service in eastern North Carolina are on again, Durwood Stephenson, U.S. 70 Corridor Commission director, told people attending the commission's meeting at Goldsboro City Hall earlier this month.

An Amtrak official attended a meeting last year on finalizing the renovation and revitalization of the train station in Morehead City, Stephenson said. The official laid out the general parameters for passenger rail service in eastern North Carolina and promised to return with a detailed plan, he said.

Plans were made for a presentation this past January, Stephenson said, but were canceled after the official heading up the efforts left Amtrak.

After that, Stephenson said he questioned Amtrak officials as to what would happen to passenger rail service.

"I was told that idea had been dropped and it wasn't going anywhere," he said. "We got busy and started ringing some bells and nagging.

"Joe Boardman, the president of Amtrak, an ex-military guy, realized the importance of it. The military stepped up to the plate and talked about how important it was to them."

Meetings were held last week and Amtrak "put a real aggressive guy" on the plan who understands rural areas, Stephenson said.

"That plan is now on track and he is looking for locations for their stations," he said. "He tells me that probably New Bern and Jacksonville, and he tells me to be careful with these dates, but I like to put people on the spot. He says hopefully it will be operating by September of this year, which is pretty ambitious.

"Then he will move on to New Bern and Greenville and maybe Goldsboro and all of eastern North Carolina to be served. So that plan is well in the works. We expect to have some announcements. In fact, the governor is going to be part of a major announcement sometime in the next three months about passenger rail service in eastern North Carolina."

Stephenson said what had surprised him was the projection of a minimum ridership of 50,000 riders when passenger rail services starts up. Sanderson said he thinks that number "had excited and energized," Amtrak officials.

"I think that is pretty exciting news for all of us," he said. "It is moving forward."