Commuter rail transit in charleston, sc.

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i have lived in charleston, sc, for more than 40 years and am retired.. since the fall of 2015, i have attempted to stimulate interest in proposing a local commuter rail system in the charleston "tri-county" area.. charleston is in desperate need of a better way to transport people in and out of its metropolitan area.. i have sent emails to more than 100 orgs., including local, state and fed. govt. agencies, chambers of commerce, newspapers, radio and tv stations, in the charleston area.. i received no reply.. i sent email to a dozen public-relations firms in the charleston area asking for suggestions as to bringing the need for commuter rail in this area.. i received no reply.. i emailed the nat. rail pass. assn. and the am. public trans. assn.. neither replied.. i have no clue as to the reluctance of anyone to discuss the need, or lack of it, for commuter rail service.. can someone offer me pointers to be used that would start a dialog among citizens and the media to interest residents and govts. in the value of a commuter rail system in this area? if newspapers, radio and tv stations ignore me, where can i go to post my message to be heard or read?

i live on social security and am unemployed.. im just a middle-class retiree who wants to attract attention to a local need in the community of charleston, sc, whose population approaches 300,000.. can a person's message be heard if they are not rich, influential or elected? what would you suggest? thank you.
What transportation agencies serve the Charleston area? You should check out their web site to see what services they provide and what plans they may have for expanded and new services. Check the archives of local newspapers to see if there has been any discussion of existing and proposed services.

Online search engines such as Google and Yahoo can be a good tool in finding resources, but you will have to weed through a number of 'hits' to find useful discussion and resouces.

For an example of how multi-mode public transportation, including commuter rail, is being built and expanded in the general Seattle /Tacoma area, check out:
thank you for sharing.. i have checked all the resources you suggest.. i have been doing this for a year and a half, without success.. maybe its my message, maybe the people i email are in denial.. but still, to refuse to merely give me a shot at trying to persuade SOMEONE to listen is beyond me.. im not asking for money or favors.. im not part of a group or movement; i do this all on my own.. i just want my side to be recorded and put into public view.. one newspaper article or one tv interview; just one chance to be heard by someone who will report (print or video) what im proposing.. if my idea is dumb, o.k., its dumb, but dont i deserve a chance to present my side, just once?

could i be so wrong?
Go to a board meeting for CARTA and fill out a public speaker slip and speak at the board meeting. Make sure you have a prepared statement as you'll only a few minutes to speak, typically 3 minutes, which will go by fast.

Rail is very expensive and are there current rail lines that parallel popular travel routes? Are those lines usable for commuter trains? i.e. do you think they are good for anywhere near 79 MPH? If not, then there would be a huge amount of cost to improve the line.

In your comment to the board, ask them to request a grant for a Project Study Report (PSR) on the feasibility of a commuter line. After you speak, find out who is on the board and email the board members politely asking them to study commuter rail.

Commuter rail has fallen out of fashion lately for new services. Existing lines are doing some expansion, but Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is the new flavor of the FTA with buses getting priority signals and exclusive lanes.
are you in the charleston area? while a public forum may be a good idea, a case for commuter rail could not be made in a brief time.. the important issues could not be addressed so quickly that would attract great interest for additional consideration.. yes, rail is very expensive; i estimate it could cost up to $300 M over 20 years.. what is the alternative? total gridlock? there is more negativity in NOT instituting a rail line than starting one.. consider the economic impact: gridlocks not only discourage commuters, but will turn new companies away from locating here, if they see little progress in traffic flow.. tourists will turn away if they cannot move about freely between tourist stops and their hotels.. retirees will not locate here if they see difficulty in traveling between their homes and dr. offices, hospitals, ers and other facilities.. people traveling between other locations who are just "passing thru" will not report good impressions of our region if they are delayed in making highway contact with interchanges, etc. to travel beyond charleston; this can escalate into further negative reports in travel magazines, booking agents and comments on internet traveler sites.. as to commuter rail falling out of favor, i disagree.. where the population increases, and the resources are overwhelmed for street travel (car, bus, taxi, limo), there are predictable outcomes in traffic congestion.. this will expand into traveler dissatisfaction and complaints to transit authorities and govt. agencies.. delays in response by fire, police, ems and other emergency traffic will result in extensive damage to property and loss of life due to the delay in reaching the location where help is needed.. in charleston, ems has complained that "calming bumps" (speed bumps) which might cause serious injury to those being transported in ambulances; also, slowing down to negotiate speed bumps might cost lives, as they cannot move at a necessary speed to arrive before the injured die or suffer exacerbating wounds which are beyond the ems crew of saving or getting the injured to an er.. since the 60s, commuter rail has expanded into many major cities: atlanta, chicago, los angeles, seattle, san diego.. there may be differences between these systems: some may be more "l-r" than "c-r".. it doesnt matter what the designation is.. street rail is becoming more a more advantageous option, even if only in areas with large populations, whether due to congestion or other issues..

although not "commuter rail", subway lines in los angeles and new york have opened.. if authorities were not encouraged by the prospect of success in ridership, would these lines have been built or completed? although not "commuter rail", there has begun a movement to further enhance "acela" high-speed rail service between its current stations.. the plan is to secure rail trackage and restrict usage only to high-speed passenger traffic.. as for charleston, carta has begun to add express buses to stop only at suburb points.. i-26 will have a "bus-only" lane to expedite movements for carta.. this will show some improvement in the short-term, but cannot sustain an advantage over time.. the need for traffic improvement in charleston will not be alleviated by merely adding buses.. there could be buses lined up from charleston to summerville, and it wouldnt help.. "economy of scale" does not function in this scenario.. more buses mean more traffic, regardless of a restricted lane; more buses mean more drivers, more vehicles to be maintained, more room needed for storage and repair.. the only way the concept can be achieved is by commuter rail.. buses carry approx. 40 riders; rail cars carry 80 riders.. ten commuter cars can carry riders that would fill 20 buses.. adding rail cars to handle more riders would be much cheaper than adding buses, which require more drivers, more cost, more maintenance.. commuter rail can easily schedule more frequent trains at less cost.. commuter rail can reduce highway by a significant margin, as opposed to buses, which add more vehicles at a slower rate..

commuter riders will avoid highway congestion.. while highway traffic may be blocked by more vehicles, accidents, construction, etc., commuter riders will move along on schedule, arriving at their on-time destinations and absent the stress of sitting in highway traffic, wondering if they will arrive home in time for dinner.. yes, the costs in funding and time are significant, but what is the cost of doing nothing, or allowing short-term improvements? in 20 years, what will charleston be like without commuter rail? will it be supported by buses? buses have flexibility in routing, but they cannot match commuter rail in rider capacity and cost-per-mile, when considering hundreds and thousands of riders.. while govt. agencies are known to be reluctant in asking for more money, riders who must cope with gridlock on a daily basis, as just a part of their lives, would not be reluctant in demanding solutions that will reduce traffic and bring them home on-time.. consider a worker in charleston who has driven his car and parked it in a city garage.. during his workday, he hears of a traffic accident blocking all lanes of his route homeward.. no telling when the lanes will be cleared.. what can he do? if he drives home on a route served by a commuter rail line, the solution is simple.. he takes a taxi (or bus) to the commuter rail station.. he boards the train and arrives home on-time (needing a bus connection, or taxi, or being met by his family), possibly earlier than what would be expected if traveling by car.. the car is safely parked in a garage.. the next workday, he returns to the commuter rail station, travels to town, takes a short ride to work.. at some point he might ask a city garage employee to verify the safety of his car for the next time he needs it.. and there you are.. this is a benefit of commuter rail: moving people to/from work faster, safer, more efficiently and at much lower stress than anything that could be used on a highway..

after wwii, the "big 3" automakers actually bought up "traction companies" and disbanded them to encourage people to buy cars after the war.. automakers made no profit in helping to win the war.. they needed make up their losses fast and soon.. this was a way (although not favored by people like me, who have always adored anything that moves on rails) to make money, put people back to work and satisfy the public's need to forget the war by buying something that moves fast and is available in a variety of colors.. that was the solution that worked then; not-so-much now.. today, charleston is in the midst of exponential growth: the economy is accelerating, tourism is growing, companies are moving into the "tri-county" area at the rate of several each month, resulting in hundreds of families relocating each month.. people need homes, schools, shopping centers, etc.. but, what do they need most of all? roads, especially to/from work.. but, if the roads are at near capacity 5 hours each day, what then? where do you go when the roads are filled, when accidents block all the lanes, when construction improvements never end because there is no catching up to something that outpaces your community's ability to absorb it? what is the solution then? more highway lanes? more buses? really?

yes, i will attend a board meeting and bring copies of my posts.. i hope to post positive results, even if minimal..
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to get permission for such a project, several steps must be taken and approved.. from observing political issues in s.c., it appears that an undertaking would major require steps to begin serious activity: in south carolina, a state-wide referendum would be required to authorize creating a unique jurisdiction to begin management of such a project.. a referendum might be titled, "on creating a transit authority for the counties named.." passage of such an initiative would authorize local govt. and business leaders to confer a "rail transit authority" to add members, hire staff, hire contractors, conduct surveys, build structures, make a budget, spend money, ask for funds from local and state agencies (raise taxes if needed), solicit grants from state and fed. agencies, acquire land (including condemnation if needed), establish rights-of-way across private and public parcels, negotiate with railroads to contract for access to trackage, establish scheduling, etc.. of course, there would be much more to be done, but this is a start.. i believe this is where the most time would be taken.. i figure it would be nearly 8 years before the first shovel is turned to start.. too bad, but this is the bureaucracy we live in.. the actual building i believe would take 5-8 years.. this would add up to 16 years, and this could go either way.. another issue is lawsuits.. nothing this big gets done without lawsuits.. such charges could run from the state's authority to authorize a referendum to taking land without just compensation, to contracting with local railroads for access to their right-of-way, who knows? of course, studying other projects, whether involving transit or whatever, to learn how they handled their problems would help..

THIS MEMO IS IN SUPPORT OF, AND AN ADVOCATE FOR, a rail transit initiative in the tri-county area, which could be realized in 20 years.. the opening system would be added to accommodate growth throughout the tri-county area.. sustaining growth in the metropolitan area of charleston-berkeley-dorchester areas is best supported by a mixture of bus and rail transit.. bus services handle small groups of passengers along variable routes where stops can be altered at any time.. rail transit handles larger groups of people along a fixed route with stops at fixed points.. both modes are viable solutions within a defined context.. bus routes are already in place between the major cities and the suburbs; they can be added to and re-routed with little effort or expense..

rail transit, because of its large capitalization and lead time, must be well-planned and presented to various agencies for funding and approval, as well as inviting the public's input and critiquing to optimize the network, whether small or extensive in its reach..

the plan proposed here is to draw a basic sketch of rail plans between charleston-n. charleston to the outer reaches of the rural areas of the tri-county area..

>> a route (with stations) could be planned from downtown charleston, to n. charleston, to summerville, jedburg and terminate at st. george..
>> a second route (with stations) would travel from n. charleston to goose creek and moncks corner..

depending on the success of the initial plans, system extensions and branches could be added where needed..

a station in downtown charleston could be built (with railroad approval) in the "neck area".. there is room and tracks between king st. extension and meeting st. rd where a station and parking could be planned.. the owner railroad would agree to lease the property and offer unused trackage, or footage along the right-of-way for development by a rail transit authority.. a station at this point would be a convenient stop for bus riders to change to rail transit and vice-versa.. "park-and-ride" acreage should be easily contracted for riders to leave their cars behind..

where viable, rail transit better serves the community and reduces highway congestion.. a bus carries between 40-50 passengers.. a single rail car can carry up to double the capacity of buses.. a number of buses traveling along a highway during rush hours merely serve to transfer the auto congestion to bus congestion.. an 8-car transit train would carry approx. 640 passengers; to carry the same load would require 16 buses.. at rail stops, passengers may transfer to buses which would carry them to areas not served by rail transit.. rail service to outlying areas make it possible for residents to commute to the population centers at all hours of day and night.. workers and those seeking a night of entertainment can ride to town in the early evening and return on a late-night schedule to any point along the line.. this increases human traffic while minimizing road traffic.. a rail transit schedule could allow multi-car trains at 15-20 minute intervals; loading / unloading 640 riders four times an hour would move a more than a typical amount of people at peak hours.. it stands to reason that such efficiency in local transportation would attract more riders and a greater need for a sophisticated, far-reaching plan that allows for added traffic and extended routing.. such a well-executed plan would no doubt attract attention from distant population centers asking for support in their local transit issues.. such a local system in charleston could serve as a model nation-wide.. even in planning and design stages, the care and consideration given local communities by allowing input from govts., citizens,, could be a template for a "how-to" to be used by other organizations needing similar help with their local traffic tie-ups..

the economy of scale achieved by a rail transit initiative cannot be marginalized in the charleston area.. the area needs better ways to transport hundreds, even thousands of passengers in a fast, safe and commendable system which pleases riders for scheduling, comfort, safety, convenient and enjoyable trips.. the time to begin a rail transit plan is now.. to confine transit improvements to bus routes and scheduling is not only short-sighted, it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure, as the increasing ridership will cause a "bus-only" transit system to collapse under its own weight.. buses can only carry so much of the load, and the roads can only carry so many buses.. the roads must not only carry the expanded transit buses, they must also carry the otherwise traffic that will be there, and also increasing on a daily basis.. a "bus-only" transit system will be a short-lived panacea which will fizzle in a few years, when the number of buses cannot support the number of riders.. the expense and maintenance of maintaining such a transit fleet and including the bus operators and dispatchers, etc., will eventually become driven to collapse under the weight of needed transit services, the expense of adding more buses, more personnel, bigger repair shops.. where would it end? regret? accusations of wasted funds and resources? "why didnt we do that, when we could have easily done so?" "what do we do now?" also, paying back borrowed money that financed the expanded bus system to begin with; but with routes clogged with buses fighting already-existing traffic, there is a threat of declining transit revenue due to bad publicity from the "over-saturation" of the bus system with too many buses crowding streets and not maintaining on-time schedules..



QUOTE: Rail is very expensive and are there current rail lines that parallel popular travel routes? Are those lines usable for commuter trains? i.e. do you think they are good for anywhere near 79 MPH? If not, then there would be a huge amount of cost to improve the line.

charleston is served by 2 class "a" norfolk southern and csx.. csx operates 2 pass. trains daily, n-s none.. top speed for commuter rail would approach 30-35mph; cars would be diesel-powered.. total mileage for 2 branches would approx. 100 mi.. as to contracting with the, they would maintain the r-o-w, offer scheduling support, routing during peak periods and other issues.. insuring a smooth, comfortable ride for commuter rail would be the responsibility of the standards for insuring a right-of-way that provides smooth rides would be similar to the long island r.r.. if its good enough for them, its good enough for us.. both operate a single main-line thru the service area.. scheduling 2-way commuter service on the same track with main-line would be impractical.. i believe a 2-track system would work and this would be the most expensive part of actual construction.. a 2nd track would be laid for commuter rail use only.. the 2nd track would be used for outbound scheduling to the other end.. the return run would use the main-line of the coordination and scheduling would be complex.. r.r. dispatchers must work closely with rail authority dispatchers to insure safety and staying on-time for both modes.. using the 2nd track for 2-way commuter operations would inhibit scheduling, as a train could not depart until the previous run returned.. this would frustrate peak-hour scheduling.. riders would wait very long periods before the next train could depart..

yes, this is a very expensive proposition; there would be much controversy on the cost, the time to build and the value returned to the community.. but, if there is a better solution for charleston's traffic woes, id like to hear it.. when several bridges were being considered for the charleston area, there was much argument on disrupting communities that would be impacted by construction and the completed pathway of the structures.. years were spent on studies, re-studies, impact statements and updated impact statements; anything to obstruct the continuation of the plan as designed.. eventually, the bridges as planned won out, and there is noone who would consider a return to the street plans we had before those bridges were built..

its the same with this commuter plan.. im not a builder, or contractor.. i know nothing about engineering, project management, funding or any discipline needed to plan, design, build or operate anything like this.. i do know charleston is at the crisis stage for its traffic woes, especially in the north charleston area and outbound to summerville along i-26 and where i-26 and i-526 intersect.. we need a solution and we needed it years ago.. i understand a project of this size is certain to instigate litigation; such is life.. people deserve redress for their grievances, and everybody deserves their day in court.. what must be understood is, we make sacrifices everyday to get something in return-- we compromise.. to get something, you give something.. as projects become larger, costs will increase and people will have grievances to be aired.. i believe much advance planning and interaction with impacted families and businesses can vitiate the pain people feel if their land is needed for the commuter rail system.. the more we talk to people, and the earlier we talk to them, the less pain they will feel and the faster the process will move.. they used to call it "greasing the wheels"..

but, i could be wrong!
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I am a Charleston resident for 46 years. Traffic flow in Charleston is at the gridlock stage.
I-26, I-526 and other intersections are parking lots every day. Accidents, construction and bad weather make driving a nightmare.

A commuter rail system is the solution. It would run from Charleston through N. Charleston and Summerville to St. George. A second branch would run from N. Charleston through Goose Creek to Moncks Corner. It will cost $600 million and 15 to years to finish. What is the alternative? Bus relief is temporary. Buses couldn't satisfy rider needs if they were lined up all the way to Summerville. A rail car carries 80 passengers. A bus carries 40 passengers. Ten rail cars carry as many passengers as 20 buses, and cheaper, using economy of scale. More buses mean more drivers, more maintenance, more storage; commuter trains use the same crew and fuel no matter how many cars they pull. Commuter rail avoids gridlock. Passengers enjoy their ride as they are not concerned with driving or arriving late.

I ask the CARTA Board to request a grant for a project study report on the feasibility of a commuter rail system to serve communities in Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester counties.

What will happen to the Charleston area without improvements in traffic flow? Companies won't locate here if their employees cannot move between home and work easily; tourists won't visit here if they cannot move between their hotels and tourist stops. Our reputation in travel booking agencies will suffer because tourists will leave negative comments with booking agents, facebook pages, local govt. offices, etc. Retirees wont locate here if they cannot drive between home, doctors' offices and hospitals. What is the first question people ask each other after arrival? "How was the traffic?". No other form of transportation can handle large numbers of people as safely, cheaply and efficiently as commuter rail.

The issue of traffic flow in Charleston is not a concern for just one area of the Lowcountry. What affects one part of our region affects all of us. Our economy is interwoven among everyone home, every business, every aspect of the Tri-county region. Traffic concerns everyone, and not merely those who drive to work in a car or work on a delivery truck. We are all part of what makes the Lowcountry our home. We must all realize our vested interests in making our homes and offices easy to access, whether to work in, recreate, travel as tourists, or just pass through on the way to somewhere else. We face not only a challenge but an obligation to insure our roadways are free to drive through. Clogged roads are as fatal to communites as clogged arteries are fatal to humans. The sure cure is a commuter rail system. It will improve traffic flow and reduce gridlock. It will expedite riders to destinations faster, cheaper and safer than any other mode. Building it will be expensive, long in completion and fraught with obstacles, but it is the only system that will endure over the long-term after it is inaugurated. Commuter trains are flexible in scheduling, highest in passenger capacity and much cheaper on a cost-per-mile basis. No other mode of transit approaches the effectiveness of commuter rail by any comparison.

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during february, i am emailing the letter i posted today to elected councils in 6 cities and 3 counties in the path of my "fantasy commuter railroad"; also the lengthy discussion that was posted some time ago.. each mailing includes the pair of messages: the letter and the discussion about commuter rail.. other addressees are the b-c-d council of governments and the carta board.. i am also appearing at the public comment part of the carta board meeting where i will read from the beginning of my letter.. i only have 2 min.. after these minor, no-cost attempts, i dont know where else i could attempt to make an impression on anyone who might take an interest in my "transit campaign".. i dont travel.. although all the recipients of my messages allow public comment at meetings, i will not attend any other meetings, as they are held at night, and i dont favor driving or walking in unfamiliar neighborhoods after sunset.. a 1-in-a-million chance might be that the media would attend the carta board meetings and, if they observe my comments and are stimulated, they might ask to interview me about what i said and other views on commuter transit, but im not holding my breath.. i also sent the pair of messages to our new s.c. gov, henry mcmaster; if he cares, maybe he will reply; again, im not holding my breath..

and so it goes..
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