Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The majestic (or not) train station

A Raleigh friend called me the other day to tell about his experience driving to Charlotte recently to pick up a friend arriving on Amtrak from the south. The train, if it's on time, arrives here at 1:38 a.m. He was dismayed at the poor upkeep at the Amtrak station on North Tryon street.

(Above: Historic Seaboard station on North College, now owned by the Urban Ministry Center.)




He reports: Both the TVs on the wall in the waiting room were broken. (How hard is it, he asks, to get on a ladder and remove a broken TV?) There's a big sign, he said, but it wasn't lit. And there was no lighting in the parking lot. "I was just amazed," he reports. After all, it's a place hundreds of people go through every week. And given the schedule for the Crescent train (southbound arrives at 2:20 a.m. daily, northbound at 1:38 a.m.) that people will be arriving in the middle of the night.

Since it's after 5, I've not been able to ascertain who owns and operates the station, whether the N.C. DOT's rail division, or Amtrak, although I suspect it's NCDOT. I've e-mailed Patrick Simmons of the N.C. DOT rail division and will update this tomorrow when I hear back from him.

This observation about the bleak conditions at Charlotte's train station coincides with a recent piece in the Economist about the great passenger rail stations of the past – many of them, like Charlotte's, demolished in the last half of the 20th century. Follow the link to read it.

It's in the works for the state to build a new train station on West Trade Street uptown, near Johnson & Wales University, to be used by Amtrak and the proposed commuter rail to north Mecklenburg. Maybe the new station will be more like the grand terminals of old, and less like the squat, dilapidated Amtrak station we've had to use for almost 50 years now.

Interesting candidate forum last night in East Charlotte. I'll offer more thoughts tomorrow, when there's more time to write.

22 comments:

Cato said...

The cause of upkeep at the Amtrak station is probably the same as the reason that the filthiest bathroom I've ever seen, bar none, was in Penn Station in NYC.

They're both run by government agencies that are essentially unaccountable to the people they purport to serve.

Anonymous said...

That's a pretty "sketch" part of town too, especially in the middle of the night.

P.S. Why is there a picture of old, old train station - hasn't been used for trains in my lifetime, and I'm 51 years old - accompanying this post?

WashuOtaku said...

What's the guy from Raleigh's beef? Has he not been to the Amtrak station in Raleigh itself, it is a joke (small and very basic). I rode the train there and when I got off the train I was on the street; the only plus was that it was next to the new convention center where I was going to anyway.

They probably signed-off on the station, just doing patch-work till the new station at Gateway is built.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mary I think AMTRACK is on its way out and a NEW Faster train is going to be the nex big thing;
Also I have heard tha a new magnetic train is being looked at like that of Europe. I think that a 300 MPH train will get us to D.C. fast. I know that the train will stat in RALEIGH and may get to Charlotte. Raleig will be the first leg of the rail. Mary I love old trains and they are fun to joy ride but I do believe we will have to up grade to the new magnetic rails. good luck.
UNCLE SAM,s Nephew Earthworm

Anonymous said...

I love the Station Mary thats real class to have a station that looks like that hope they save the Station nostalgic and get magnetic rails.

Anonymous said...

The photo accompanying this article is NOT of the Amtrak station Mary is writing about.

Anonymous said...

who cares what anyone from raleigh thinks?

Salisbury is more relevant.

DWright1 said...

Probably 15 years ago, I attended a meeting in Harrisburg with transportation officials. They explained that a new 100+mph Washington-Atlanta train would come through town in the near future, and laid out which crossings would close, which would be overpasses, new road routes, etc. Not one shovel of dirt has been turned, not one railroad tie laid down. Don't anybody hold your breath for anything fast and 21st Century.

Megan said...

The best train station in the state is in Rocky Mount. It's worthy of a backdrop for a period film. I look forward to visiting that station again to catch a train to DC...it's just a four hour trip.

Anonymous said...

if i ever considered using the train to raleigh, i would NEVER take it out of that charlotte station. no way would i ever leave my vehicle in that parking lot. i think kannapolis is definitely a safer bet, and not too far out of the way for a huntersville resident (going to the tryon station is backtracking). if the new downtown station turns out to be anything like the greyhound station, you can bet i wont be using that either.

Anonymous said...

Don't hold your breath until the NCDOT gets back to you. Your face might turn blue.

Obviously, Raleigh controls the cleanliness of Charlotte's AMTRAK station. Ask Bimbo Tippett, Marc Stealsright or Beb Purdoo.

Don't ask Barry Moose. He's a cretin.

Anonymous said...

I recently traveled to D.C. from Charlotte via Amtrak. I found the facility no worse for wear than the airport. The TV's were working fine, and the station staff were awesome! I was traveling alone with an infant and never felt uncomfortable in any way. I left my newer-model car parked in the parking lot for the week I was away. When I arrived back in CLT at 2 a.m. I did not feel as if the parking lot was dark when I walked out to my car. I enjoyed a leisurely 80 mph ride to D.C. and back and would not have a problem taking the same trip again. Now if we can just get Amtrak to regulate their heating / cooling on the cars, I'd have no complaints!

John L said...

I remember traveling from Tuscaloosa, AL to Charlotte while on leave from the Air Force back in 1999 (I was stationed in Columbus, MS). It sounds as if nothing has changed at the station in the past 20 years.

Anonymous said...

Most interesting rail depot currently in use in NC: Hamlet. It doesn't just look as though it could be form the golden age of passenger rail, it IS from that period, and perfectly restored.

Ben said...

What's really outrageous is how we as a country and us as a people have allowed train travel in general to fall out of favor.
I know as Americans we like the freedom and independence of our own vehicles but we need to rethink that. Rail is a much better mode of transport. Look at the Europeans, especially Germany. They have safe, efficient and cheap transport for everyone...and it's clean

Bruce said...

The best trains in the world have wings and stop or go wherever they need to at more than 300 mph FASTER than the fastest train. ie. 550 mph.

livenotonevil said...

Well I actually recall the old station in downtown Charlotte and though not opulent had a tone. This newer was part of an update 'em movement back in the 70's that replaced many older intown monuments more maintenance minded like Broad St. Station in Richmond. Charlotte hates to whine and puts up with crappy oversight so they can soak.

Anonymous said...

The Greensboro station is soo nice and completely restored, and in a great part of downtown... Why does Charlotte's have to be like crap? ... http://www.downtowngreensboro.org/citylight/go/j-douglas-gaylon-depot-unit-num3

Anonymous said...

Bruce:

As long as getting to the departure gate is like entering East Germany in the '60s, I will never get on another airplane.

Earthworm:

Maglev is not being considered anywhere in the US, and it is not in use in Europe. I believe Japan has one Maglev line but people are protesting it.

The new "High speed" corridor from Charlotte to DC will only be 110 mph, and they are working on it. Millions have already been spent upgrading the track and crossings between here and Raleigh, the Environmental studies have been completed and approved for the Gateway Station, and the engineering work is underway to upgrade the track in Charlotte City Center.

consultant said...

Atlanta use to have a great station. They tore it down years ago in the name of progress.

We're originally from Kansas City, Mo. KC has one of the last remaining great railroad stations from the early 20th century (no longer used, primarily, for passenger rail traffic).

But in the 1970's, someone thought they should tear the great station down. A great howl went out across the plains and citizen groups fought back and got the powers-to-be to back down.

No such luck for many other places around the country.

Passenger rail in America is a joke. It should be rebuilt. We could use it. People would use a credible system. But today, it is a joke.

Anonymous said...

Consultant,

How do you plan to PAY FOR IT?

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