Sunday, December 21, 2008

Parking Problems Plague North Carolina Station

File this under good problems:

Amtrak patronage in Raleigh, NC, has grown to the point that customers have trouble finding parking spots in the station lot, the Raleigh News & Observer reports.

"The capital is blessed with one of the railroad's busiest stops in the Southeast and hobbled with one of its littlest stations.

Last year more than 140,000 riders stepped on or off the six trains that stop each day at the modest brick station on West Cabarrus Street. Amtrak offers free parking for travelers, and its tiny lot fills up fast. "

The lot has but 57 spaces. At peak travel periods like Thanksgiving, as many as 900 passengers use the Raleigh station. And, things are likely to get worse before they get better since next summer Amtrak plans to a second state-supported Charlotte-Raleigh round trip to complement the Piedmont. The other trains serving Raleigh are the New York - Miami Silver Star and the New York - Charlotte Carolinian.

To deal with the problem, Amtrak has resorted to adding extra station personnel during peak periods and encouraging customers to use other stations in the vicinity, such as Cary or Durham. Among the factors contributed to increased patronage have been track improvements that have cut 30 minutes off the Raleigh - Charlotte travel time and better on time performance.

Seems like now would be a good time for Raleigh to have "shovel-ready" plans for expanding station parking so it can compete for some of the infrastructure money Congress is likely to include in an economic stimulus package early next year. Of course, this would be less of an issue if we weren't such an auto-centric society. There'd just be a light-rail network linking downtown Raleigh, with a stop at the Amtrak station, with its suburbs.

On a personal note, a shout out to Bruce Siceloff, the reporter who covered the story for the News & Observer. We were colleagues at The Greenville News from 1976 - 1977.

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