Along with California, North Carolina is one of the only states which sports its own Amtrak-inspired livery. The Tarheel State has been at least partially subsidizing passenger rail service within its borders since the 1980s when it partnered with Amtrak to inaugurate the Carolinian. However, it was during the 1990s that things truly began to take off when an additional train was launched, today known as the Piedmont Service between Charlotte and Raleigh (it began as the Piedmont). As the state became more involved in supporting rail service demand grew and it now sponsors two daily Piedmont, which spurred the name change. Its current hopes include pushing passenger trains across the state to its largest cities such as Asheville in the west and the port of Wilmington along the Atlantic coast. Additionally, it hopes to operate them at high speeds (over 100 mph), which is a very real possibility as demand continues to grow for the trains.
The route now used by Piedmont Service was once part of the Southern Railway's route across North Carolina, which stretched as far as Morehead City to Raleigh, Greensboro, Salisbury, and westward to Asheville (stretching as far as Murphy). While the Southern did provide local services across the Tarheel State (including to Raleigh) and many of its well known runs connected to Charlotte which lay along its main line, it never hosted a named or expedited regional train between the two cities; the closest the railroad came was with trains like the Asheville Special (Washington - Greensboro - Asheville), Aiken-Augusta Speciall (Washington - Salisbury - Augusta), and Carolina Special (Cincinnati - Greensboro/Charleston). By the time Amtrak began on May 1, 1971 the Southern had long since ended all local and regional services.
Its sole remaining train, which was not initially included in Amtrak was the fabled Southern Crescent that survived until early 1979 when the railroad finally relinquished it to Amtrak. North Carolina's first venture into partially subsidized rail service began in the early 1980s when it partnered with Amtrak to provide a train, known as the Carolinian, that would connect Charlotte, Greensboro, and Raleigh with Richmond, Virginia. From that point Amtrak would offer through service to passengers wishing to reach Washington, D.C., New York City, and all major points in between. The train debuted on October 28, 1984 but survived only a year due to poor revenues (despite high ridership).
Six years later the two tried the train again, which kicked off on May 12, 1990, but this time chose to operate it as a through train all of the way to the Northeast. As ridership and demand grew North Carolina began exploring the possibility of adding an additional corridor. Five years later on May 26, 1995 it debuted the Piedmont which served the cities of (east to west) Raleigh, Cary, Durham, Burlington, Greensboro, High Point, Salisbury, Kannapolis, and Charlotte (which is 173 miles in length). The major difference between this train and its counterpart is that the state fully owns all of the rolling stock used for the service, just like California. Its fleet of locomotives includes two EMD F59PHIs and four F59PHs, all of which are named for cities served along the route.
The cars used are dated Pullman-Standard and St. Louis Car Company equipment, which has been heavily refurbished. Additionally, the state continues to overhaul more cars. Everything sports a livery that is Amtrak inspired but uniquely North Carolina; silver and blue with red trim topped off by a large star on the nose of locomotives and "North Carolina" adorning their flanks. As demand grew the state elected to enter a second train into service over the corridor which renamed the route as the Piedmont Service. Today, the trains complete trips in about 3 hours and 10 minutes with train numbers listed as 73-76. As services have grown so has ridership and 2011 saw a jump in ridership by more than 40% over 2010 to more than 140,000 passengers! The route between Charlotte and Raleigh is also now owned by the state, known as the North Carolina Railroad (which in total owns 317 miles of track) with rights leased to Norfolk Southern to provide freight service.
The Tarheel State has big plans for its future rail service as it hopes to establish high speed operations throughout its borders from Asheville to Wilmington. While the North Carolina Railroad has its owns website to truly learn about the state’s incredible plans of passenger and commuter rail services you need to visit the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s dedicated website to such called Bytrain.org. This website not only give you the latest scoop concerning ongoing initiatives and plans relating to North Carolina’s railroading operations it also informs about the state’s steps to preserve right-of-ways for future rail use and keeping industries planted in its borders by providing rail access. All in all, the entire site is the best resource on the Internet to learn about North Carolina’s rail industry, from passenger to freight usage.
Check out the website's digital book (E-book), An Atlas To Classic Short Lines, which features system maps and a brief background of 46 different historic railroads. To learn more please click on the image below.