On Oct. 14, Gov. Roy Cooper announced that more people rode North Carolina’s intercity rail service during September than any other month in the past 32 years of NC By Train's existence.
According to the North Carolina Department of Transportation, 48,488 passengers rode trains in September — an increase of more than 50 percent from last September.
“The train service continues to be an important mode of transportation for folks that are trying to get between the communities in North Carolina,” NCDOT Rail Division Director Jason Orthner said.
North Carolina's train service began running in 1990 with the initiation of the "Carolinian" — a train route that runs from Charlotte to Raleigh to New York. The Carolinian runs daily along with the Piedmont train, which runs from Raleigh to Charlotte with seven stops in between.
The passenger rail system rebranded to the name "NC By Train" in 2015, Othner said.
“The NC By Train branding, I think, was important for us to create a unique component to Carolina services,” Orthner said.
Orthner said the train services are a means for people to travel between cities without a car and that they reduce the overall congestion of roadways.
Shane Adams, a UNC first-year, said he took a round trip from Raleigh to Richmond. Adams said the two main reasons he decided to ride the train were his lack of access to a car and the low cost of a ticket. In total, the trip cost him $70 to $80.
“It was easy overall to use because you do everything on your phone, and it’s all digital,” Adams said.
Orthner said NC By Train always encourages college students to turn to the system as an option for transportation. He said NCDOT has noticed that many students travel west toward Charlotte or north toward Virginia. NC By Train also offers a 15 percent discount for college students between the ages of 17 and 24.
Mady Ignacio, a senior at UNC, said she rode the train from Raleigh to New York – a 10-hour trip. Due to the length of the ride, Ignacio purchased a suite on the train. She had a private room with two beds and a table and said the trip was comfortable with a good amount of leg space.
Orthner said he believes components of NC By Train have created a comfortable ride for passengers. The trains have free Wi-fi, outlets at every seat, large seats and big windows.
“What it allows people to do is to ride and see the beauty of North Carolina while they’re doing either work or entertainment or just talking with friends,” Orthner said. “It’s a very different experience than being behind the wheel.”
In Ignacio’s opinion, riding the train is an experience everyone should have. She said she plans to take more railway trips to cities farther away, especially if the state invests more money into development by NC By Train.
“The train system is a really interesting way — a very cool way — to see the landscape of our country,” Ignacio said.
Looking into the future, Orthner said NC By Train wants to add more trains and routes. For the Piedmont area, it hopes to add another service next year for more travel times between Raleigh and Charlotte.
Orthner said NC By Train also wants to expand beyond the Piedmont corridor. One of its current projects is called the S-Line: a high-performance and high-frequency connection between the Triangle region, Virginia and the northeast.
The organization is also studying extensions west toward Asheville and east toward Wilmington. Orthner said NC By Train has received a lot of interest in bridging these communities with the Piedmont route.
“We have a pretty expansive vision for how this network can work together, and we’re excited for the future," he said.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.