Activists launch effort to
rescue piece of history
in hopes of restoring railroad service
thru the Tryon - Saluda area
By Lori Sondov
January 8, 2003
Nearly everyone has a favorite memory about trains: taking a ride for the first time, walking across the tracks as a child or just watching the train go by and wondering where it was heading as you waved to the engineer.
For a number of folks in the Tryon, NC area, the train means all those things and much more. It could mean an economic boom to the area and an alternative form of passenger travel, if members of the Carolina Heritage Line Committee have their way.
The committee was created after Nor- folk Southern stopped regular freight travel on the line that runs from Landrum, SC to Asheville, NC, The rail company has stated that it may resume traffic in the future, but members of the committee are exploring all the options of rail service.
Their main focus is preserving the lo- cal line, and they hope that Norfolk Southern will not completely abandon the line.. The committee has been meeting regularly at the Saluda Library, and its volunteers have been researc4ing all the elements involved including transportation, legislation and economic is- sues.
"If we can pull this off (bringing rail service to the track), it would be the biggest economic boom and the biggest thing since the coming of BMW," relates Jim Ott, .owner of the Mimosa Bed and Breakfast Inn in Tryon and a member of the committee.
"We don't look at this as a Tryon thing, it's a regional thing," adds Tony Grogan, owner of the Tryon Old South Bed and Breakfast Inn and another member of the committee,
A former resident of Taylors whose daughter, Kim Swayngham, owns Kim's Kids in Taylors, Grogan is a Great Britain native who worked for a number of years with two private railroads there. "I'm from a railroad family. My great- grandfather, my grandfather and my father was an apprentice of my grandfather in the railroad business. When I was a lad, I used to ride on the footrail on the local freight or passenger train.
"In the 1960's, the government had an ophthalmic surgeon and they made him a railroad expert and he said, 'Look at all the branches of the railroad in and around Great Britain arid see which ones aren't making money and close them,' He did that, then the streets were filled with cars and vehicles they were not de- signed to handle. It almost ruined the English countryside. Then, the railroad preservationists stepped in, The government now realizes it screwed up badly and it started working in tandem with these groups to get the rail system re-started" Continues Grogan, "What we have here is a similar thing. You have a re- source that goes from A to B in a very safe, very efficient way and it moves freight and people. Plus, there's a warm feeling toward railroads."
"If it weren't for the railroad, Tryon and Landrum might not exist, and probably Saluda wouldn't either," notes Dennis Durham, who serves as Town Com missioner of Tryon and is on the committee.
Adds Ott, "The railroad is steeped in history."
The committee would like to preserve that history as well as bring to life a passenger freight service, preferably a light rail service. The section of track currently railbanked by Norfolk extends for about 33 miles. But, the committee members can envision offering passenger train ser- vice. from Spartanburg, or perhaps even Charleston, to Asheville.
"It's one of those things that every- one agrees is a good idea," says Ott "It's getting everything all in a row. We're getting what the railroad wants--they want to see you get funding. Now, we've set up a non-profit organization to raise; funds."
The group is also looking to add more volunteers to its efforts. "It's a little tougher time getting people to go home, then come back at night for meetings and do some work," says Grogan.
"But, we've had some good participation," adds Ott
The group says they've had participants at the mayoral level from Asheville, Hendersonville, Saluda Tryon, Landrum and Spartanburg. Says Ott, "The state of North Carolina is very interested in it, and we've got to get the state of South Carolina involved in it."
Durham adds, "Each one of the principal towns have all passed resolutions in support of our cause."
If Norfolk Southern does not resume service on the railroad track, then the group hopes to accomplish its goal of lighter rail service. "This translates into real dollars and sense," relates Grogan. "The restoration of the railroad to rein-grate it back into people's lives--that's what a light rail system (could do). It could be the tie that binds all these towns together. To put this very useful rail sys- tem back into use would be very beneficial. It is the only rail route from the Southern part of South Carolina all the way to Asheville--it's the only direct route there is."
There are other options, such as turning the
railroad track into a walking track. "'Rails to Trails' has been a
successful thing," says Kim Talbot, who serves as executive director of the
committee. "But, I don't think this rail is suited to that."
Members also want folks to know that they are "not interested in going into the railroad business. Our emphasis is to save it, then get someone else to run it," explains Ott.
"Western North Carolina and maybe Northwestern South Carolina have never been economically advantaged," says Grogan. "But, there are North Carolinians and South Carolinians who are grasping the situation and saying, 'We've got the brains God gave us, what can we do?' We don't have a lot of high tech industry here. The beauty of the area is one of its greatest assets. I can see a working railroad that brings people here-it will bring you to a center of town, and there will be dinner train specials. This would allow the folks who live here to be taking care of themselves."
Want to find out more? Check out their website: www.carolinaheritageline.org
Interjects Ott, "We've already got it, we don't want to lose it! And this would be a railroad that actually goes somewhere. The Anderson-Clemson light rail system has actually gone past the study part of its development. It's a 27-mile stretch with a five mile wide impact area that encompasses about 100,000 people. What we're talking about is many more thousands than that, and it's 60 plus miles long."
He continues, "This can absolutely be done. We need all the help we can get to do it. It's not going to happen tomorrow, but, I don't see why it can't be done."
One of the obstacles encountered by the group occurred when Talbot was advised by an employee of the NC Department of Transportation (DOT) that, because of the steepness of the Saluda Grade, (it ranks as the steepest railroad grade in the country), as much as $500 million in insurance coverage might be needed.
"Number one, you can only get so much insurance. We have talked with a local insurance agent familiar with railroad liability insurance who says that $10 million in coverage would be sufficient. That would run about $2000 a month," says Durham.
Overall, though, the group says that the DOT has been very helpful with the efforts thus far. On its web-site, www.carolinaheritageline.org, the group reports in its most recent news that, "We have received news through the NCDOT that the DOT would be very interested in preserving the line. This is a major step in the right direction."
Most of the feedback the committee has heard has been very positive toward saving the railroad. "About the biggest thing we hear is from people who miss the train," notes Talbot.
"If we got the passenger train service going, then the parking, bathroom and police are all issues that can be handled," explains Ott. "We're extremely flexible and we'll do whatever they want us to do. We started out with the idea that we can't lose this-its part of our heritage".
The group is also stressing on being organized for whatever happens to the railroad. "We have to be prepared, even if they never sell it. Because if they decided to do it, we've got to be ready," Ott states.
Some funds have already been contributed to the group, which is also selling tee-shirts to raise funds to conduct an economic impact study. The shirts, which cost $12, appropriately feature a train with the words "I think I can! I think I can! I think I can! at the top and their Save the Rails logo on the bottom
For all those working on the Carolina Heritage
Line Committee, saying the train track is just like rescuing a part of history.
It's adventure," says Talbot of the railroad.
I'm from Western New York and I saw the railroad get abandoned and the little lines got abandoned when Amtrak came along. They ripped the rails us and sold little pieces off of it. We're got this thing and it's got historical history value, and it goes some place. It would be an awful shame to lose it," says Ott.
"About 100 something odd years ago, the railroad basically took the land, saying they're doing this for the basic good. They made money for 100 something years. When the railroad starts to abandon something because it no longer serves an economic purpose...it could be given back for greater good," notes Grogan. "Dennis and I talk about it, and he misses the train."
"I grew us in Spartanburg County," notes Durham. "The railroad is so much a part of Tryon, Saluda and Landrum. I'm a member of the Fours Group in Landrum, and we probably had 30 citizens involved with the main thrust that we want to preserve what we have. When we thin about Tryon, when the train came through, that's when the people started coming. It is our heritage, it's us. This place is so rich in history. This is who we are and it's too important to loose."
Adds Ott, "I think most people feel that way."
The committee invites input from Upstate
residents, who can find out more by visiting the group's website at
www.carolingheritageline.org or attending one of its meetings, which are usually
held at 10 a.m. on the third Wednesday of each month at the Saluda Library.
Meeting times and places are also posted on the website.