By Temple Ligon
May 16, 2013
In the past two weeks there have been two articles on the feasibility of a passenger rail system in South Carolina.
First was the suggestion that the Palmetto Compress Warehouse next to the passenger railroad tracks, just a couple hundred feet south of the existing and pathetic Amtrak station, serve as Columbia’s new combined Greyhound and Amtrak station. With only one northbound passenger train currently traveling through Columbia to Raleigh and finally to New York City every morning around four o’clock and only one southbound passenger train traveling to Savannah and finally to Miami soon after midnight, the quality of Columbia’s train station is a low priority, obviously.
The Columbia train station opens around ten at night and closes later that morning at five, if the northbound train has already come through. Holding to its posted schedule is not the northbound train’s strongest characteristic. Still, albeit an hour or so late, the train does come through every night.
But with the relocation of the Greyhound buses to the same facility as the Amtrak trains, a 24/7 station becomes a busy and safe place regardless of the train arrival times.
As proposed last week, if passenger rail service can connect a route with Savannah, Charleston, Orangeburg, Columbia, Newberry, Spartanburg, Hendersonville, and Asheville, a sure-fire success should result considering the critical mass of resident millions in population combined with the untold potential numbers of tourists commuting between the mountains and the sea.
A day train called the King’s Grant, the northbound passenger rail service leaving Savannah at 7:00 a.m. would come through Columbia every other day around lunchtime, and the southbound, leaving Asheville at 7:00 a.m., also every other day around lunchtime. The King’s Grant would be famous for its fabulous breakfast and lunch service, but the train would not serve dinner, arriving in Asheville and in Savannah in the late afternoon.
To chase even more millions in its prospective customer base, this proposed passenger train network needs a second rail route, one that connects Atlanta, Augusta, Aiken, Columbia, Camden, Florence, and Myrtle Beach. Keep in mind, Midlanders, Columbia becomes a passenger rail hub where the tracks cross for both commerce and pleasure, golf along the Grand Strand being the most obvious tourist ticket sales booster.
Since the northbound King’s Grant pulls into Columbia every other morning at 11:00, the westbound train from Myrtle Beach, Florence, and Camden, called the Golf Coast, should also arrive at 11:00, allowing for a choice between the two western termini, Asheville and Atlanta.
Then every other morning at the same time the King’s Grant leaves Asheville, the Golf Coast leaves Atlanta at 7:00 for Augusta, arriving about 9:30. Taking a little time in the Augusta station and connecting with Aiken, the Golf Coast arrives in Columbia at 11:00, just in time for the southbound King’s Grant as it also comes through Columbia, now giving the passenger a choice among coastal termini, Myrtle Beach or Charleston or Savannah.
The dining car riding the rails each way needs to have a signature food service. Inviting Nathalie Dupree, for grand example, to compete for the breakfast and lunch business on both the King’s Grant and the Golf Coast is a real possibility. Again, no dinner service is needed because the trains arrive too early in the afternoon in Asheville, Charleston, Savannah, Myrtle Beach, and Atlanta. The King’s Grant and the Golf Coast deliver empty stomachs looking for dinner menus at all the termini.
On top of the enhanced visitor count to South Carolina bolstered by its new passenger rail network, the resident population gets affordable access to the state’s major cities. The Piedmont, North Carolina’s Amtrak connector between Raleigh and Charlotte sells its cheapest one-way passenger ticket at $28. And don’t forget: That’s from downtown to downtown. The South Carolina passenger rail service proposed here is not only urban, it’s urbane.
Connecting Columbia, South Carolina’s capital city, with Atlanta, Georgia’s capital city needs no further push. Too obvious. The King’s Grant and the Golf Coast connect most of South Carolina, all of its major cities, and by connecting with the population of greater Atlanta, the trains double their prospective passenger population base.