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Old 06-01-2024, 10:39 PM
 
Location: Gaston, South Carolina
15,791 posts, read 9,710,214 times
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In late April, I rode the southbound Amtrak Silver Star, 91, out of Columbia. Even as someone who likes trains, it was my first Amtrak ride, though not my first train ride. The first part of the experience was booking the round trip through the Amtrak website. I did not find it to be very user friendly, but then a trip from Columbia to Jacksonville was a pretty easy set up. A friend out of Waycross was going to pick me up for a week. Oddly, there is a closer train station to Waycross in Jessup, but to get there, I'd still have to get off in Jacksonville, have a layover, then take a second train back into Georgia. I got travel insurance which meant I'd get a 100% refund if I had to cancel which is good because I did have to cancel an earlier trip.

Canceling was actually on me. I realized to ride Amtrak I'd need to have a picture ID which I had recently lost. In fact, over the years, I had lost every piece of identifying information I had. It took me a month to six weeks to get all my ID back and then I got another round-trip ticket and planned my trip. Oddly, I never had to show any ID on either trip, LOL.

I got to the Columbia station an hour before the train arrived as they suggested on the website. I had been checking the status of the train and Amtrak said it was running on time. The station was not full, but the parking lot nearly was. My house mate had dropped me off and helped me get my stuff inside. The female attendant in Columbia was very helpful. Like I had not realized I would need to tag my own bags. She made sure I knew to do so and then put them on herself.

I sat down and slowly the station began filling up. There was open annoying couple there who evidently planned to take all of their luggage as carryon and kept taking to one another about how the train ride was going to be. I just knew they would be on my car sitting right behind me. The attendant came on two minutes before the train was due to arrive and said it was now running thirty minutes late. I thought that was weird since the website still said it was running on time. Sure enough, two minutes later, the train arrived.

We boarded and I realized they were putting us on cars depending on our destination. This, of course, makes perfect sense, but i had not realized they would do this. Oh, the annoying couple was in another car Most of the people were asleep in the car, but I was nervous and anxiety-ridden about sleeping. I thought i would doze off and when I woke up, we'd be past Jacksonville.

We pulled out of Columbia and I was wishing this train ran daylight hours so I could see out as we went over the Congaree and through the rail yard in Cayce, but that was not to be. One thing I was surprised by was how bad the ride was as you got out of the yard in Cayce. It was bumpy and we seemed to be on a slow order. The track would get a little better between Swansea and North. By the way, I live three miles from the track in Gaston which I found ironic sine I had to bard the train 18 miles away in Columbia.

I have a little bit of a dark sense of humor, so I posted on Facebook "Apparently loudly mentioning when you're approaching previous derailment sites is frowned upon by fellow Amtrak passengers." I did think of the two Amtrak crewmembers who died in the Cayce derailment a few years ago. I did not know them, but since I do know some railroad employees through my photography, I knew people who worked with the CSX crew and had Facebook friends who knew the Amtrak crew.

I can't remember exactly when we found better track, but it was before Denmark. Suddenly, we were going the speed limit on what rode like great track. Train traffic is busier here than it is closer to Cayce, so apparently the track upkeep is better here. The train stopped in Denmark, but I do not believe there was any time for anyone to get on or get off there before we left again and hit the top speed limit pretty quickly.

The stop in Savannah was a little longer, probably as long as Columbia, as people got on and off the train. This was where the crew change happened and that was pretty easy to tell when we left. The engineer out of Columbia handled the train somewhat roughly as he accelerated and slowed down, ore of how I would think a freight train would ride. The guy out of Savannah was much better and handled his train as I would expect a professional would. No jerky motions at all.

I seem to have been the only person awake and it dawned on me that I did not know where the bathrooms were. I mean, I've been on passenger cars before, some with bathrooms and some without. I knew that obviously Amtrak cars would, but my anxiety and nervousness made me not want to get out of my seat. I have balance issues related to my prosthetic leg and being on a train, I imagined myself falling on sleeping passengers as I walked down the aisle. The conductor passed by and said there was a bathroom at the other end of the car. Then he saw my prosthetic and I swear he seemed to understand my predicament. He said there is also a bathroom on the near end of the other car, which is where I used it.

I took my seat again and soon enough the conductor walked through the car and announced we were close to Jacksonville. He made sure everyone was awake who was disembarking there. I guess I could have gone to sleep. Oddly, the train would stop just before the passenger station, the conductor said, so that the locomotives could take on fuel. We'd remain onboard while this happened. This struck me as odd. Why could they not refuel at the station? Or just passed it? But even with the refueling, we arrived in Jax on time, disembarked and picked up our luggage.

The trip back was just as good a week later. Amtrak was running on time again. It was all at night again. The only bad thing this time is that I sat in the front of the car with no window. Even though the trip down had been all at night, it still helped being able to see the stars, moon, tree lines and a few stores and such with lights. I still did not sleep on the trip. I'm not sure they changed crews this time in Savannah. Maybe they did. And we arrived in Columbia on time again. It was an all-around good experience for me and I hope to do it again, this time going northbound, possibly to Philadelphia to meet a good friend who recently moved there. At least a lot of that trip would happen in daylight.

I noticed a week or two later, some of my photog friends got shots of a northbound Silver Star in and around Columbia in daylight hours. Those passengers were not as lucky as I was as that train was running four hours late. From my recollection, the train had hit a trespasser in Florida and was held up.

Photograph is of my train as it left Jacksonville. Motive power is two newer Siemens locomotives. The sun was just coming up.

Amtrak Silver Star 91 Florida by Joe the Photog, on Flickr
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Old 06-02-2024, 06:37 AM
 
8,352 posts, read 13,611,932 times
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Thanks for narrating your trip I have traveled to and from Columbia going north but never south to Florida. I have traveled to Florida from DC on the Auto Train, but that goes through Florence, Kingstree and Charleston before joining the route you took at Savannah.

I can say that the track work from Southern Pines NC to Camden to Columbia is Norfolk Southern and is probably just as poor at what I believe you traveled on CSX from Columbia to Denmark. There had been talk of Amtrak (Silver Star) abandoning that route and instead of going from Raleigh to Southern Pines... heading over to Charlotte then down to Columbia thus connecting the Metro with Charlotte and providing additional train service between Raleigh and Charlotte which now has the Carolinian and Piedmont Service. From Columbia it could continue south to Denmark-Savannah as it does now or divert to Sumter to Charleston then following the Silver Meteor and Palmetto to Savannah and points south. The challenge with this route is that the segment between Charlotte and Columbia is woefully slow and poor trackwork. However; SCDOT is studying new train routes in existing right of ways (ie. highways and under power lines) which will likely consider the median of I-77 between Charlotte and Columbia as a potential route for new tracks thus eliminating that problem. The benefits of these re routes would mean places like Rock Hill and Sumter (both fairly large SC Cities) could pick up Amtrak Service though the towns of Camden and Denmark would lose it.



Lastly, If the above happens then SCDOT and NCDOT COULD coordinate additional train service on Carolinian which is subsidized by NCDOT and runs at favorable hours between Charlotte and NYC. That specific train could be extended to Columbia to give it a better train service along with the existing Silver Star that would also be headed to Charlotte thus giving city four trains a day -two in each direction. I guess we shall see.


If Amtrak could step it up and become like Brightline it could attract new riders

https://www.gobrightline.com/
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Old 06-02-2024, 03:27 PM
 
Location: Gaston, South Carolina
15,791 posts, read 9,710,214 times
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I am hoping my next trip on the Silver Star is northbound, but then I said that already before. The problem with the trip north is that that line is not busy for CSX meaning they see no need to keep it up other than what the government says they have to because of Amtrak. Rerouting the Silver Star could be interesting but problematic in Columbia as they would need a connection vetween the NS track from Charlotte to the current Amtrak station. Although they could just come through the Greek Village, then back up to the Amtrak station. Or just build yet another new station. Interesting to think about. I always felt like there needed to be a train between Charlotte and Columbia.

I wanted to ride Brightline in Florida, but decided it cost too much. I did get some shots though.

Florida East Coast Brightline 27 by Joe the Photog, on Flickr
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Old 06-03-2024, 07:11 AM
 
8,352 posts, read 13,611,932 times
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The existing Columbia Amtrak Station ...if it remains at its current location could be serviced by a new interlock at Fairwold in Greenview. There the trains coming from Charlotte could move over to the CSX line that runs through north Columbia into current station. What has been recently discussed is moving the Station to Harden Street near Benedict College . There it will align with trains from Charlotte on the existing NS Line ..but if trains still come from Camden then the same interlock would need to be created at Fairwold in Greenview to send trains on the NS Line . Once they get to USC they can continue on our through Cayce as they do now or divert towards Sumter if the route is changed to connect with Charleston

I personally like the current station as it is in the heart of the City but I can see the City of Columbia selling it for more residential development as it is booming around USC. There is also interest in adding the COMET and Greyhound so that may be more feasible at the Harden St location. The concrete plant was discussed but I think they should use a portion of the Richland County Courthouse site if/when they move to the Columbia Place Mall

Last edited by Woodlands; 06-03-2024 at 07:24 AM..
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Old 07-08-2024, 10:30 PM
 
Location: Gaston, South Carolina
15,791 posts, read 9,710,214 times
Reputation: 17811
Quote:
Originally Posted by Woodlands View Post
I can say that the track work from Southern Pines NC to Camden to Columbia is Norfolk Southern and is probably just as poor at what I believe you traveled on CSX from Columbia to Denmark.

There had been talk of Amtrak (Silver Star) abandoning that route and instead of going from Raleigh to Southern Pines... heading over to Charlotte then down to Columbia thus connecting the Metro with Charlotte and providing additional train service between Raleigh and Charlotte which now has the Carolinian and Piedmont Service. From Columbia it could continue south to Denmark-Savannah as it does now or divert to Sumter to Charleston then following the Silver Meteor and Palmetto to Savannah and points south.

The challenge with this route is that the segment between Charlotte and Columbia is woefully slow and poor trackwork. However; SCDOT is studying new train routes in existing right of ways (ie. highways and under power lines) which will likely consider the median of I-77 between Charlotte and Columbia as a potential route for new tracks thus eliminating that problem. The benefits of these re routes would mean places like Rock Hill and Sumter (both fairly large SC Cities) could pick up Amtrak Service though the towns of Camden and Denmark would lose it.
I read this a few times to make sure I understood it as it's late here. It does seem a little odd to me that the Silver Star and Silver Meteor runs so close to one another in the Carolinas. It would help if one of those was a daylight run through the Carolinas, but I also understand they go through so late because they leave and reach both cities on the end of their runs in daylight. Just for kicks, I "planned" a trip from Columbia to Charlotte and it takes nine hours to get there and you go through Cary, NC, SMH I know they looked at extended the Piedmont that runs Charlotte to Raleigh down to Columbia and even ran a train down that line but no one really thought South Carolina was going to put any money into that. Same when someone mentioned running the light rail south of Pineville into either Fort Mill or Rock Hill.

Also, neither Silver Star spent much time in Denmark when I was on the train. I don't think there is any way anyone got on or off in the brief time were there.
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Old 07-10-2024, 07:31 AM
 
8,352 posts, read 13,611,932 times
Reputation: 2574
Quote:
Originally Posted by Joe the Photog View Post
I read this a few times to make sure I understood it as it's late here. It does seem a little odd to me that the Silver Star and Silver Meteor runs so close to one another in the Carolinas. It would help if one of those was a daylight run through the Carolinas, but I also understand they go through so late because they leave and reach both cities on the end of their runs in daylight. Just for kicks, I "planned" a trip from Columbia to Charlotte and it takes nine hours to get there and you go through Cary, NC, SMH I know they looked at extended the Piedmont that runs Charlotte to Raleigh down to Columbia and even ran a train down that line but no one really thought South Carolina was going to put any money into that. Same when someone mentioned running the light rail south of Pineville into either Fort Mill or Rock Hill.

Also, neither Silver Star spent much time in Denmark when I was on the train. I don't think there is any way anyone got on or off in the brief time were there.
NC does have the Carolinian. It begins/terminates in Charlotte and runs to NYC.. It is subsidized by NCDOT.. that gives NC the "daylight" train..or atleast an early morning evening run that favors north carolinians. I agree that the Piedmont would be an easy extension into SC because it is solely funded by NCDOT and runs between Charlotte and Raleigh. I am sure SCDOT could put in some funds and work with NCDOT to extend it to Columbia. The only issue would be that it would only be useful if you are going to points in between Columbia and Raleigh along the I-77 and I-85 corridor.. not if you are going further north. That said, if they extended the Piedmont and leave the Silver Star as is.. it would provide more of a regional rail connection from SC to NC but the long distance issues of early morning arrivals/departures from Columbia would remain It would be interesting to see if there is demand for a regional rail run between Charlotte and Columbia....though they may have to still extend it to Charleston to give it more ridership...The problem is.. You can take Amtrak NOW from Raleigh to Charleston via the I-95 corridor (Silver Meteor and Palmetto). BUT you cant go from Charleston to Charlotte.. or Columbia to Charleston which could be created with an extended Piedmont and that may be attractive especially if you pick up Rock Hill and Sumter as part of a Charleston to Charlotte run via Columbia ...
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Old Today, 12:00 PM
 
248 posts, read 209,982 times
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I really don't see a train from Columbia to Charlotte as viable, ditto a train from Columbia to Charleston. For one thing, you are going to need a way to get around once you arrive in any of the three cities, and only Charlotte has anything resembling mass transit that goes to any part of the city, aside from buses. I really have to doubt that there would be enough people, desirous enough of doing something or going somewhere in any of the three cities, to drive demand for train service. The closest thing might be Panthers games.

Don't get me wrong, I wish train service were as ubiquitous in the US as it is in Europe, but the demand just isn't there, aside from the Eastern Seaboard. And it's unfortunate that the existing trains stop in Columbia in the middle of the night, but trains run 24/7, and there has to be someplace that sees train service at suboptimal hours. Trains can't be all places at once.
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