The country’s foremost provider of intercity passenger rail service has several projects in development here, including a new route between Raleigh + Richmond, VA (which officials with the NC Department of Transportation say is a priority likely to begin soon). The company also plans to add service between Charlotte and Atlanta, GA. All of this is noteworthy, because the only Amtrak service we have nearby in the mountains are within driving distance in Spartanburg + Greenville, South Carolina, making train travel an option for those who can’t drive, as well as those unwilling to travel by plane during the pandemic.
Asheville hasn’t had rail service since 1975, when the city’s last official passenger train ran a final time. In those 45 years, there have been multiple efforts to bring rail service back to the mountains, including the NC Department of Transportation’s 2001 adoption of a phased plan to build and renovate train stations with other community uses.
In 2004, the Swannanoa River crested + overflowed in Biltmore Village after three hurricane systems, including Hurricanes Francis and Ivan, came through the area back to back, causing massive flooding and over $200 million in damage, which ultimately rerouted $450 million in state money to disaster relief. In 2005, the city + state bought property in Biltmore Village as a site for a future station, but it has not yet been built. In 2008, when lawmakers were set to request state funding for transit and rail service, the economy tanked with the Great Recession, pushing it back once more.
Last year, local governments requested an $890,000 funding package from the state to cover expenses for a new passenger bus run between Asheville and Salisbury, NC (about two hours and fifteen minutes east of town) which would connect passengers to rail service on Amtrak in Salisbury. The prospect of riding a bus to Salisbury to catch a train to another destination did not elicit the enthusiasm officials had hoped for, and then, notably, the pandemic struck. While the future of rail service here is still uncertain, this is promising news.