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Train Tales talk focuses on return of passenger rail service to WNC

SALUDA — Ray Rapp, a former four-term state House member from Mars Hill, will discuss “Back On Track: The Return of Passenger Trains to Western North Carolina” during Saluda Train Tales at 7 p.m. Friday at the Saluda Historic Depot.

Rapp, a former Mars Hill University administrator who is co-chair of the Western North Carolina Rail Corridor Committee, will talk about the N.C. Department of Transportation feasibility study completed April 1 for the resumption of passenger rail service between Salisbury and Asheville. AMTRAK has included Asheville in its future planning and has targeted 2035 for the launching of this service.

The new study by NCDOT Rail Division proposes three roundtrips per day along the 139-mile line with stops in Statesville, Hickory, Morganton and Marion and a running time of 3 hours and 25 minutes. The study projects 100,000 local trips and more than 150,000 “offline connections” annually.

The initial capital cost is $665 million and 80 percent of the funding would be covered under an $80 billion Biden administration appropriation to expand AMTRAK services. At the end of March 2023, NCDOT’s Rail Division submitted its application to the FRA’s Corridor Identification Program for 13 such lines in the state. The Asheville-Salisbury corridor was among the highest ranked recommendations. Rapp will share the pathway and possible hurdles to bringing back passenger service to the mountains after a nearly 50-year hiatus.