Norfolk Southern puts the
brakes on Polk County train travel
The following articles that
have appeared in the Tryon Daily Bulletin
ever since NS had stopped using the tracks. This page will take a minute
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The Tryon Daily Bulletin
Tryon may be seeing an empty track from now on, since Norfolk Southern has decided to reroute trains and avoid the Saluda Grade. (photo by Chris Dailey)
By Leah Justice
The towns of Tryon and Saluda may have already heard their last train blasting its whistle through downtown.
Susan Terpay of Norfolk Southern says if any more trains do come through, there won’t be many and there definitely won’t be any more by the end of the month.
Norfolk Southern is eliminating 33 miles of train travel between Hendersonville and Mascot, S.C.
“The reason is a shift in traffic patterns,” said Terpay.
The tracks will remain for possible future travels. Terpay says changes in business could promote another rerouting in the future where the remaining tracks could be used.
Freight trains that carry coal from southwest Virginia to Duke Power’s Allen Steam Station near Belmont now originate in West Virginia and avoid the steep Saluda grade route. The only other item carried by Norfolk Southern trains in the Polk County area is wood chips, and Terpay says those freights can go another route via Linwood, near Salisbury.
Another reason the local line will not be used is the slow speed of the trains, according to Terpay. She says the Saluda grade is the steepest grade in the United States. It has a 4.7 percent grade for three miles near Saluda, meaning it rises 4.7 feet every 100 feet of horizontal travel. This is several times the acceptable grade for American railways.
Terpay says trains traveling up and down the Saluda grade have always been slow and many times have trouble. Trains are restricted to 8 m.p.h. coming down the mountain and 20 m.p.h. traveling up the grade.
Over the years since the railway opening in 1878, the track has had some derailments and fatalities. Since changing braking equipment and adding two safety tracks on the grade, no major derailments have happened in 30 years.
Some area citizens may be relieved that the noise is gone, but some say the train has played a big role in Tryon lifestyle and will be missed.
Tryon citizen James Payne lives close to the tracks and says the train has been a big part of his life in Tryon.
“I have fond memories of the train,” said Payne.
He says he used to walk the tracks in town and on the old trestle across from the Lake Lanier entrance. He remembers his mother talking about the entertainment trains brought to people in Tryon. He says she used to dress up to go downtown and see people getting off the trains. According to Payne, there used to be seven passenger trains a day come through Tryon.
Holland Brady of Tryon says he walked the train trestle many times himself.
“I’m going to miss the trains because they’ve been a part of my life,” said Brady.
He and Payne recall the same train derailment years ago near Lockhart Street above Rogers Park. Brady says the train was carrying coal and there was coal everywhere for days after the wreck.
Payne has lived the phrase of “being able to sleep through a train wreck.” He says when the coal train wrecked, he woke with people everywhere outside and had to asked what happened because he didn’t hear it.
“We live near the tracks and just learned to block out the noise,” said Payne. “The train is what Tryon was built on.”
Landrum may still hear an occasional train, but only local freights. Norfolk Southern is rerouting its Polk County area freights. The Polk County/Landrum area used to be served by Southern Railway.
Everyone has a favorite train story
by Leah Justice
Since the Saluda Grade's beginning in 1878, the railroad has played a huge part in many Polk County lives.
Whether it be childhood memories of walking the tracks or trestle, laying a penny on the rail to see what happened after a train went over it or getting dressed up on Sunday to go to town and watch visitors come from far away, almost everyone remembers something about trains - even if all they remember is the noise.
Many Polk County citizens are sad to see the trains go. Some say the area already has an unfamiliar and constant quiet.
Norfolk Southern recently rerouted trains away from the Saluda Grade between Tryon and Saluda.
In 1877, the railroad between Tryon and Asheville was planned by the late Capt. Charles W. Pearson for the Spartanburg & Asheville Railroad (later named the Asheville & Spartanburg Railroad). The steepest standard gauge mainline grade in the United States - a three-mile, up to 5.1 percent grade known as the Saluda Grade - was opened for train travel on July 4, 1878.
Pearson, the man behind the Saluda Grade and Pearson's Falls, had trouble surveying the land for the tracks. There was a mountain in the way. And in the 1800s, there was no way through it, no way to wind up it, and it was too costly and too far to go around it.
Originally, Pearson and engineers surveyed the railroad via Columbus. Because of the high costs of building tunnels, the mountain's instability and the route being 13 miles longer than the Saluda Grade, the plans were abandoned.
Because of the steep grade, many accidents have caused the railway companies who have owned it many lives and much money. The first company to purchase the Asheville & Spartanburg Railroad was Southern Railway, which later became Norfolk Southern.
About a century ago, stories about train derailments and deaths were common in newspapers from here to Asheville. The location of the wrecks was most often the notoriously dangerous Saluda Grade.
There were 29 deaths between 1880 and 1903 due to freight train accidents.
There were two danger areas on the treacherous three-mile grade; one near Tryon in an area called Melrose and one halfway up the mountain, called Sand Cut. The Melrose area of Saluda Grade was later named, "Slaughter Pen Cut," after three men were killed and another lost his leg carrying a freight load of coal, steel and timber, and and cars of cattle.
The year 1903 was a year to fear the number "13" and was perhaps the worst year for train runaways. In a few months of 1903, there were three accidents that led to changing the technology of train travel on Saluda Grade.
On July 13, 1903, engineer W. P. "Pitt" Ballew was seriously injured in a runaway accident involving a steam engine with 13 cars of coal. It wasn't until a wreck on August 13, 1903, and another a week later that Ballew, from his hospital bed, knew a solution to the Saluda Grade problems.
Ballew was quoted as saying, "I'm not superstitious, but it sure pays to keep a wary eye on number 13."
On Aug. 14, 1903, an article in The Asheville Citizen Times read: "Death claims two heroes in Slaughter Pen Cut."
Ballew's vision was to install two safety tracks - one near Sand Cut and another near Slaughter Pen Cut. This was the first attempt to make train travel on Saluda Grade safer and more efficient.
Safety track No. 1 saved the lives of those on a passenger train just a year after it was installed. There was a devastating flood in July 1916, when the railway was almost washed away. A passenger train had to halt travel at one of the safety ramps to avoid traveling over a Pacolet River bridge that had been destroyed by the flood waters.
Some changes in brake technology also occurred in the early 20th century to make travels safer for steam engines. Diesel engines were introduced to the Saluda Grade in 1949, and train runaways began to decline. Runaways didn't completely cease, however. There was one in 1964 and another in 1971 on the Saluda Grade.
One of the more recent derailments is remembered by Tryon citizens because it occurred right behind Rogers Park in Tryon and involved a freight train carrying coal. James Payne, who has lived close to the tracks a long time, says he got so used to hearing trains at night that he slept through the derailment.
The Carolina Special was the name given to the passenger trains that brought visitors to the small towns of Tryon and Saluda. Since both have depots, they were popular places to stop to prepare for travels up or down the Saluda Grade. The last passenger train, which according to long-time Polk County residents was a daily entertainment attraction, stopped on Dec. 5, 1968. During the Carolina Special's prime years of both steam and diesel engine trains, the trains had observation areas, a diner and cars for baggage and mail.
No passenger train runaways or derailments ever cost lives on the Saluda Grade. The two safety tracks completed by the end of 1903 are credited with saving many passenger lives.
Robert Pace, owner of M.A. Pace General Store in Saluda, was in business when passenger trains were prominent during the first half of the 20th century. He says many visitors traveled to Saluda via train.
"Back when the boarding houses were here, tourists from the lower part of South Carolina used to come and stay for the summer," he says.
Pace says he used to say if there were no trains, he would pack up and leave Saluda. Now that they're gone, Pace says he guesses he'll have to retract that statement.
"I miss the trains terribly," said Pace. "It would be nice to have an excursion train, though."
(Saluda Grade history sources include: www.polkcounty .org and www.trains.com)
by Chris Dailey
It may face an uphill journey as steep as the Saluda Grade, but a push for passenger service on the local railroad is gaining momentum.
One week after news was released locally that Norfolk Southern has halted regular freight traffic, a committee formed to pursue passenger service.
A group of top officials representing three towns, two counties and two states met Wednesday in Saluda to discuss the idea.
They formed the Carolina Heritage Line Committee, and pledged to expand their representation soon to at least six cities and four counties.
"This has issues of transportation, historical significance and economic development wrapped into one ball," said Kim Talbot, who was elected the committee's executive director. "I think we probably have about a 70 percent shot at pulling this off."
The committee's first meeting was held in the Saluda library, a fitting location.
The previously dilapidated historic building was restored through a community-wide effort. Saluda was also the site recently of a successful movement to preserve the historic Green River Bridge on Hwy. 176.
With a bridge and building behind them, it appears the next stop is a rail line.
The committee's representation certainly should help its cause. Talbot, the former mayor of Saluda, helped lead the charge to save the Green River Bridge, working with local and state officials.
He is joined in the Carolina Heritage Line Committee by current Saluda Mayor Lee Clippard, and Landrum Mayor Bob Briggs. Also at Wednesday's meeting was Tryon councilman Dennis Durham.
The committee is also well represented in the local business community. Other members include: Jeannie Martin and Skip Seaman of the Polk County Chamber of Commerce, Jim Ott and Tony Grogan of the Foothills Bed & Breakfast Association, Wanda May, president of the Tryon Downtown Development Association (TDDA), and Chaz Anderson of the Landrum Area Chamber of Commerce.
John Vining, Polk County Cooperative Extension Service Director, also attended Wednesday's meeting and plans to play an active role.
An executive committee, consisting of Talbot, Clippard, Seaman, May and Grogan was formed Wednesday to lead the project.
One of the first plans for the new committee is to get resolutions of support passed by local governments.
The committee also plans to enlist the support of officials in Asheville, Henderson County, Hendersonville, Brevard, Spartanburg, Campobello, and other local governments.
The committee then plans to begin tapping contacts at regional and state government levels to work on funding and liability issues.
The most important contacts may be at Norfolk Southern.
After all, the railroad still owns the line, and it plans to maintain it for possible future use. The creation of a passenger line service would require an agreement with the train company.
A change in coal suppliers for electric power plants in the Carolinas recently led Norfolk Southern to stop regular use of the 33-mile local section of local rail.
The railroad was shipping coal from mines in Virginia, but is now getting it from West Virginia, according to Norfolk spokeswoman Susan Terpay.
The move means Norfolk can use alternate routes and avoid the steep Saluda Grade. The local line may be used only occasionally for now, but Terpay says regular traffic could return at any time.
"If the source of coal changes or another customer needs to be served it could be quickly switched back," she says.
Regular freight traffic could make passenger service difficult.
However, if Norfolk doesn't resume regular traffic, the Carolina Heritage Line Committee says passenger service should be plausible.
Terpay says she's not aware of any place where Norfolk currently shares operation with a passenger service. She says the possibility may depend heavily on the frequency of service, whether it's once a week or every day.
Sharing a line would also pose problems with liability, she says. Members of the heritage line committee say the liability issue is probably the biggest obstacle.
They intend to form a nonprofit corporation that could share liability and maintenance costs with Norfolk Southern. They're also looking for an attorney to volunteer on their committee, and help work through such legal problems.
Another issue is finding train operators to run the passenger service. Talbot says there are currently only about seven people "qualified to take a train up and down this mountain" because of the severe grade.
But he adds that new operators can become qualified, and moving a three-car passenger train would be quite different from a 200-car freight train.
Overall, the committee members seem very optimistic that all issues can eventually be resolved.
They also appear convinced that a passenger line would be a boon to the local area.
The section of track currently railbanked by Norfolk extends from near Campobello to Hendersonville. Freight traffic on a branch line from Hendersonville to Brevard was previously discontinued.
Members of the Carolina Heritage Line Committee envision a passenger line that reaches all those areas, and more. They note that the local section is part of a line extending from Asheville to Charleston, S.C.
Talbot says there could be weekend service to take people from the coast to the mountains and back.
"Saluda and Flat Rock started with people coming up here in the summer. A lot of people here still come from Charleston," he says.
The passenger service could draw more tourists into the area, boosting the local economy. Tourists could get off at the depots in Landrum, Tryon or Saluda to shop, dine and stay in local inns.
TDDA president May noted that a recent study contracted by her organization showed a lack of tourism here, particularly from Upstate South Carolina.
May plans to contact Tripp Muldrow, who conducted the analysis, to see if he will study the feasibility of a passenger train service.
"One question is 'How much would we charge?'" says Talbot. "We could have upscale cars or very basic cars. We could have a dining car."
No matter what type of service is created, Talbot says, there might be funding available from the state or private organizations.
He says the state passed a railroad preservation act a few years ago, and adds that a state railroad trust fund has $5 million available annually to preserve lines.
Talbot says he talked recently with Steve Head of the N.C. Department of Transportation's rail division, and received a favorable response.
"Steve thinks that due to its historical nature and economic impact that this (section of railroad) will qualify for funding," said Talbot.
The local section of line includes the Saluda Grade, which has legendary status among train buffs across the nation. It's known as "the steepest standard gauge mainline railroad grade in the U.S."
Talbot remembers that when a tourist train went up the grade years ago, one man "had driven from Seattle to pay $200 to ride up that mountain."
Members of the Carolina Heritage Line Committee expect support from state officials representing the area.
Talbot says N.C. Senator Bob Carpenter and Representative Larry Justus "are behind us," and Landrum Mayor Briggs says support is likely from U.S. Congressman Jim DeMint and Governor Craig Hodges of South Carolina.
"Governor Hodges has got a big push to create more tourism-oriented business in the Upstate," says Briggs. "DeMint's office is looking to do stuff that partners states."
Above all, members of the heritage line committee say, the railroad has been an integral part of the local community, and should remain so.
"Tryon, Landrum and Hendersonville were built around the railroad, and Saluda was built because of the railroad," says Talbot. "Back in the 1800s rail was your main transportation. To let that go would be giving up a huge part of our history."
Committee member Grogan, who owns the Old South Bed and Breakfast in Tryon, worked previously with groups to preserve historic rail lines in England.
He says a group there started by purchasing a half-mile and later expanded to 17 miles. He says the track now has regular passenger service, employing people and bringing tax revenue to local towns.
Such economic impact, Grogan and other committee members say, makes a passenger rail service more viable than a Rails-to-Trails program (see story, page 10).
Grogan says he was discouraged after hearing Norfolk's plans, but he's now optimistic. He says 2002 will be a "ramp-up year" for the Carolina Heritage Line Committee.
"I'm very encouraged by this whole thing," Grogan said after Wednesday's meeting. "These are the issues that should bind us together."
The Carolina Heritage Line Committee plans to meet again on Jan. 23. Anyone interested in providing assistance or simply listening to the discussions is invited to attend. For more information contact the committee at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Greenway group hopes for Rails-to-Trails initiative here
by Jeff Byrd
If Norfolk-Southern Corp. eventually decides to pull up its railroad track as here, the Polk County Greenways Association would like to see the corridor converted to a trail.
It could be a spectacular mountain trail linking four mountain towns, they say.
It is not a new concept.
The national Rails-to-Trails Conservancy this year listed 1,109 converted trails across the country, a network spanning 11,311 miles and growing.
In 1916, the United States boasted 270,000 miles of railroad track, more than six times larger than today's interstate highway system.
Railroad companies have since that time disposed of 150,000 miles of track. According to the conservancy, thousands more miles are likely to be abandoned in the near future.
Thirty-three miles of rail lines, now going unused, run smack through Polk County, and local greenways proponents see an opportunity.
"The news of the possible railbanking of the rail line connecting Hendersonville, Saluda, Tryon and Landrum has spurred the (greenways association) to encourage local officials to consider the idea of converting the line to a recreational use that could accommodate walkers, bikers and horseback riders," said Mike Oliphant, executive director of the Pacolet Area Conservancy.
"We know that Norfolk Southern is not going to give up this rail line immediately, but the establishment of this kind of recreational trail is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The rail line passes through some spectacular scenery and connects four of the nicest towns in the world."
The greenway association plans to send information on the process of rail-to-trail conversion to elected officials and planners, Oliphant said.
Many of those same officials and planners were meeting this week with merchants, B&B owners and chamber officials, all of whom are hoping to see a passenger train service established on the unused track. (See related story, p. 1)
If that effort fails, however, a trail conversion may yet garner their interest.
According to the North Carolina Rails-Trails website, conversion of abandoned railroad corridors to trails have several benefits:
o Greenbelts - Railroads are long-established buffers between commercial, industrial and residential properties. When a corridor is allowed to break up and disappear, a valuable community asset is wasted.
o Infrastructure - Railroad corridors can be valuable utility lanes for water, sewers, power, gas and communications. Obtaining new rights-of-way for these services outweighs the cost of corridor preservation, and utility leases may even generate significant public income.
o Transportation - A corridor which is "railbanked" and converted to trails is in tact for future rail service, should the community or regional ever need rail service again.
o Preservation - Rail corridor preservation often launches adjacent projects, restoration of old depot buildings, houses and commercial buildings, that reverse blight and enhance community pride.
o Recreation - Old rail corridors make wonderful linear parks, providing safe hiking, bicycling, skating and saddle riding facilities - high use, low maintenance.
o Conservation - Rail corridors have been in place, relatively undisturbed, for more than a century. They provide scare natural habitat for endangered plant and wildlife.
o Tourism - Off-road hiking, bicycling and saddle touring are growing industries. Trails offering tourists these outings also provide opportunities for food-service, lodging, rental and other businesses.
According to the National Rails-Trails Conservancy, more than 1,200 people a day bicycle to work or to classes on the smooth, 16-mile Burke Gilman Trail near Seattle, Lake Washington and the University of Washington.
In suburban Washington, D.C., the Washington & Old Dominion Railroad Trail attracts two million users annually.
In rural Wisconsin, rails-trails advocates estimate the 32-mile Elroy Sparta Trail attracts tourists from the entire Midwest and generates more than $1.25 million in additional business each for the small towns of Elroy and Sparta.
North Carolina currently boasts 14 converted trails in place today totaling 70 miles.
The nearest to Polk County is the eight-mile Thermal Belt Rail Trail from Spindale to Gilkey.
Altogether, seven rails-trails projects, covering another 70 miles, are under way in North Carolina and five "initiatives" are working through the process of study and negotiation for another 48 miles of corridor.
A two-mile trail is under way in Transylvania County, as is the 10-mile Cliffside Heritage Trail in Rutherford County.
In laying out how a community might organize its own rails-to-trails effort, the national Rails-to-Trails Conservancy guidebook writers suggest that a line that is only "railbanked" and not formally abandoned actually offers the best chance of success.
For one, the corridor is still intact and protected.
For another, no rail line handling interstate commerce can be abandoned without prior authorization from the federal Surface Transportation Board (STB), formerly the Interstate Commerce Commission.
Until a line is officially abandoned, the STB has authority over the use of the corridor.
That's good, says the rails-trails guide, because the STB will carry out Congress' wishes.
Congress expressed its intention that "suitable" rail rights-of-way should be converted to trail use upon abandonment, amending section 8(d) of the National Trail Systems Act in 1983 to create the "railbanking" program.
Railbanking allows corridors proposed for abandonment to be preserved in tact or put in a "bank" for future transportation use.
In the meantime the track is removed and the corridors can be used as trails, if a local agency will accept the liability.
"The Supreme Court unanimously upheld the constitutionality of railbanking in 1990 and as of mid-1993, more than 85 corridors had been or are in the process of being railbanked," the guidebooks reports.
Another law, Section 809(c) of the 4R Act, prevents a railroad from selling off or otherwise disposing of any property or trail-related structures, such as bridges and culverts, for 180 days from the effective date of the abandonment without first offering the property "on reasonable terms" for public use.
Furthermore, if the line is historically or environmentally significant, the STB has a special division just to make sure the agency complies with a variety of federal laws protecting the nation's historical and environmental resources.
The National Historic Preservation Act might raise the agency's awareness of the storied history of the Saluda Grade. The fabled train line opened in 1878 as the steepest standard gauge mainline railroad grade in the United States.
The location and natural features of the Saluda Grade would also be considered, according to the guide, triggering concerns under the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.
However, once the STB issues an Abandonment Certificate for a corridor, the writers suggest the odds of success drop significantly.
"Once the line is no longer in STB jurisdiction you will be undertaking an effort without official rules or 'referees.' Your success will then depend upon your ingenuity and tenacity."
Carolina rail committee builds momentum
by Chris Dailey
The wheels of the Carolina Heritage Line Committee are in motion.
In just its second meeting, the committee received an outpouring of support this week from people interested in bringing passenger rail service and economic development to the region.
About 30 people attended the committee's meeting Wednesday morning at the Saluda Library. Many of them volunteered to help on three subcommittees formed to research transportation, legislative and economic issues.
Kim Talbot, executive director of the Carolina Heritage Line Committee, said all options for rail service should be pursued.
"We just need to get our foot in the door to get something with passengers on these tracks, whether it starts out with regular passenger service or just one excursion train a year," said Talbot.
Committee member Tony Grogan made it clear that it will likely take years to achieve that goal. He emphasized that the committee's primary focus must be to preserve the local line.
"Our primary focus should be making sure that nothing happens to the rail," he said. "I don't want to oversimplify, but if you have the rail people will bring the trains. If the rail is torn up that would be the end of it."
The Carolina Heritage Line Committee was formed last month after Norfolk Southern halted regular freight traffic on the local track.
Although the rail company said it could resume traffic in the future, committee members said it may be only a matter of time before the rail company abandons the track completely.
They decided they should move quickly, enlisting the support of town and county governments along the line, to pursue passenger service.
So far each town in Polk County and the county itself have passed resolutions supporting the concept. Talbot says Hendersonville and Henderson County have done the same, and the committee will seek support this month in other areas, including Asheville and Spartanburg.
At this week's meeting, committee members reiterated the historical importance of the local track that includes the Saluda Grade, the steepest main line railroad grade in the country.
The 3-mile section of track, opened in 1878, has a vertical distance of 600 feet and, at its steepest, a grade of 5.03 percent.
Committee members says railroad enthusiasts from around the world would flock to the area for a chance to ride up the grade.
But they don't want to stop there.
The committee is looking at the possibility of rail service from Spartanburg, or even Charleston, to Asheville, to draw many more tourists and regular commuters.
The economic subcommittee formed this week will seek the help of the Isothermal Planning and Development Commission, the Appalachian Council of Governments, and Western Carolina University to work on an economic impact study.
Talbot says the study will be critical to show how passenger service will benefit everyone involved, including businesses and citizens in the region and Norfolk Southern.
Wanda May, president of the Tryon Downtown Development Association and a member of the Carolina Heritage Line Committee, will lead the economic subcommittee. It includes John Vining, Jim Ott and Ron Reid.
The transportation subcommittee, which will research all types of passenger service and their feasibility, is headed by Grogan, who worked for 30 years with two private railroads in Great Britain. Also on the subcommittee are Ellen Rogers and Don Verber.
Mike Russell, who traveled from Columbia, S.C., for Wednesday's meeting, agreed to help the subcommittee. He said he has contacts at Norfolk Southern and with South Carolina legislators.
Meanwhile, Talbot will lead the legislative subcommittee and work on contacting other government officials. The subcommittee includes Bob Thompson, and Talbot said he hopes to get another volunteer from Landrum.
Members of the Carolina Heritage Line Committee say they are already hearing from other people willing to help.
They said Bill Reed, a paralegal in Greenville, offered to provide legal services after he heard about the committee, and Larry Swartz, a CPA in Tryon, agreed to assist when needed.
The committee clearly appears to be gaining momentum, evidenced by Wednesday's turnout.
The crowd included citizens and public officials from Polk and Henderson counties, and even a television news crew from Asheville.
"I didn't have any idea how big a crowd we were going to get. I didn't expect this," said Talbot.
Still, committee members were quick to note that many obstacles remain, and much more help will be needed. They discussed the cost of liability insurance, perhaps their biggest obstacle.
Talbot said he had been advised by an employee of the N.C. Department of Transportation (DOT) that as much as $500 million of coverage could be needed.
Some said the figure may have been given to deter the committee. But Talbot says DOT has been helpful so far, and the steep figure could be related to the risk associated with the steep Saluda Grade.
Dennis Durham, a Tryon councilman, acknowledged that the grade could raise the cost. But he said a local agent familiar with railroad liability insurance said that $10 million of coverage should be sufficient. Durham said that would cost about $2,000 a month.
Grogan, the head of the transportation subcommittee, said he would prefer to see a light rail system, in part, because of the insurance issue.
He said light rail should require less coverage since it avoids problems that heavier trains have up the grade.
Committee members agreed that they should be able to clear the insurance hurdle, especially since other short line passenger services, including two in Western North Carolina, have done so.
They also appear confident that funding to start a regular passenger or excursion service should be available through federal, state or private sources.
Grogan says both North Carolina and South Carolina governments should be interested, and could encourage Norfolk Southern to allow passenger service.
"I think that's where North Carolina and South Carolina politicians starting making the case to Norfolk Southern of the economic impact to this region," said Grogan. "Basically this could be the bread and butter in the future. It sure beats the alternative of a lot of smokestacks."
Mike Oliphant of the Pacolet Area Conservancy (PAC) said preserving the rails for passenger service should be the first priority. But if the rails are ever removed, he said, his organization is interested in pursuing the Rails-to-Trails program.
He says the program could have great economic benefits by converting the rail corridor to a trail and attracting hikers from across the country.
For now, though, it appears most people in the area are rallying behind the passenger service idea.
Talbot says he's heard complaints from only two people, one who is concerned about having too many people visit Saluda, and another who "just didn't like the idea."
Otherwise, he said, the response from people in the local area and as far away as Columbia and Charleston, has been overwhelmingly positive.
Jim Ott, president of the Foothills Bed & Breakfast Association and a member of the Carolina Heritage Line Committee, says he's heard the same from many people visiting inns in the area.
The committee plans to meet again at the library on Feb. 20. Each subcommittee is expected to give a report on its progress.
Talbot said he hopes to get representatives from NCDOT, the American Heritage Line, the Great Smoky Mountain Railway, Norfolk Southern and Amtrak to join the meeting. Representatives from the offices of state legislators will also be asked to attend.
Excursion train sparks debate
by Leah Justice
The possibility of excursion trains in the area sparked a discussion in Saluda this week.
Saluda commissioners had some differences of opinion regarding the newly organized Carolina Heritage Committee and how excursion trains might affect the city.
The discussion ended with commissioners passing a resolution two to one Monday to support the committee's efforts. Commissioner Rodney Gibson was absent.
Newly elected commissioner Laura Fields said as a business owner in Saluda, she has problems supporting the idea because many tourists coming to downtown Saluda might not be a good thing. She said she doesn't want the city to be promoted at the expense of the community and at this point the passenger train idea scares her.
One reason she said she hesitates is because she wants public input first.
"I'm not sure the City of Saluda should put its seal of approval on something that is not welcomed with open arms by the people," she said.
Fields also voiced her concerns about the number of tourists excursion trains might bring to the small downtown area. She said it would force the city to increase city services, such as police protection and street maintenance.
Mayor Lee Clippard, who is also a member of the railroad committee sent commissioners a letter asking to pass a resolution in support of the committee's efforts. He and commissioners Johnnie Kinard and Ellen Rogers said that the idea of excursion trains was premature at this time and the resolution was not binding.
The resolution is similar to the resolution passed by the Polk County Board of Commissioners at its Monday meeting. (See Resolution, above.)
The committee desires to approach Norfolk Southern with strong, united support from the communities involved, thus the reason for town resolutions, according to Clippard.
Clippard also said that public hearings regarding the idea would most likely be scheduled if the committee makes headway with Norfolk Southern.
Rogers said part of Saluda's heritage is trains, and everyone that she talked to in the community was in favor of train travel through Saluda.
"I fear that not having a train might detract from business," said Rogers.
She says many people come to Saluda because of the train, and she can already see that the trains are missed.
Kinard agreed and said more tourism is good for business, which is good for tax revenue for the city as a whole.
Fields stated that one of the reasons she loves Saluda is because it is small and she doesn't know if she wants to have hundreds or thousands of people coming downtown.
"As far as Saluda being discovered, it's been discovered," said Kinard. "There's not a way in the world to stop people from coming to Saluda. The only thing you can do is control it."
Norfolk Southern, which owns the railroad, recently announced that it is no longer running freight trains from Landrum to Hendersonville. The Carolina Heritage Committee was formed in an effort to utilize the abandoned tracks to promote tourism and development