Going somewhere? NCDOT officials hope you'll take the train

RALEIGH (WTVD) -- For most of us, our cars have been the primary mode of transportation during the pandemic -- if we've been traveling at all.

But if you now want to leave the driving or piloting to someone else, where do you turn during a pandemic?

Jason Orthner, the director of the NC Department of Transportation's Rail Division concedes it's a tough decision.

"It is an unprecedented situation not just for train service but for transportation," he said.

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Orthner notes that when the pandemic first hit, the state reduced the number of Amtrak trains it supports by half from eight to four.

By early April, only two trains were running, both on the Carolinian route.

"The Carolinian service, which was running as the sole service, was performing as the best train in the Amtrak system as far as the state supported services," Orthner said. "So we knew that there was an essential travel need."

Orthner said while most commercial transportation modes were running at 10 percent capacity, the Carolinian was running at 50 percent.

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So now DOT has put two more trains on the track -- both on the Piedmont route.

The train offers the kind of social distancing many other forms of transportation can't, according to Orthner.
"Folks are choosing the train because it's easy for folks to social distance on the train, the cleanliness on the train is very high, there's a requirement to wear a mask. People feel safe."

And if ridership continues to grow, he said the train can continue maintaining social distancing by simply adding more cars.

There are also other advantages like the scenery and convenience, he said.

"The train provides a way for folks to get around without their car. They can relax. They can do work or entertainment very easily with the train. The seats are large."

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And, state officials hope, if those who haven't taken the train in years or have never taken it decide to try it now, they may just consider it again even when the pandemic is over.

"It is a great opportunity for us, as we recover from the pandemic, to see some increases in ridership on our service," Orthner said.

More information on the Carolinian and Piedmonts routes, pricing and schedule here.
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