Thanks to Federal Grant, North Carolina Rail Cars Get an Upgrade

In Rail & Mass Transit, Rail Lubrication, Railroads by Eric Vantiegham

A recent federal grant to the North Carolina Department of Transportation represents a unique opportunity for passenger rail — and highlights the maintenance needs of the underlying infrastructure.

Since its first ride in 1995, North Carolina’s Piedmont passenger rail service has served commuters and travelers between Raleigh and Charlotte. The service has grown increasingly popular in recent years, with 2017’s total of 147,960 passengers rising to 167,203 in 2018 — a surge of 13%.

Given the system’s growing popularity, it should come as welcome news to North Carolina travelers that the state Department of Transportation (NCDOT) recently received a grant from the Federal Railroad Administration totaling $76.8 million. This award — part of the Federal-State Partnership for State of Good Repair Program — will go to the NCDOT’s Rail Division and directly benefit the Piedmont passenger rail service.

As transportation stakeholders across the state prepare to use these funds, it’s important to remember what demands passenger rail and commuter travel place on the underlying infrastructure. Effective service isn’t just a matter of convenience — it has an important role to play in the regional economy. By investing in innovative rail maintenance products such as rail switch lubricants, key decision-makers can lay the groundwork for operational efficiency moving forward.

What the Federal Grant Covers

With the Piedmont service growing in popularity, NCDOT’s Rail Division will use the funds to help expand the fleet of coaches operating on the line. The Piedmont currently operates six trains a day between Raleigh and Charlotte — plus seven stops along the way.

These funds will help replace the oldest coaches on the line, introduce updated cars, and support a more regular schedule for travelers. Additionally, the grant will support improvements to the Locomotive and Railcar Maintenance Facility located in Charlotte that serves the Piedmont passenger rail network.

As NCDOT Secretary Jim Trogdon said, “With the support of our Federal partners, we will be able to modernize our passenger fleet. Communities between Charlotte and Raleigh that are connected by passenger rail will benefit from this enhancement.” 

The Demands of Passenger Rail

The Piedmont line’s federal windfall is certainly cause for celebration, but state decision-makers should consider what else they can do to support what’s become an increasingly important contributor to the state’s economy. After all, reliable passenger rail service supports commuters on their way to work and travelers looking to take advantage of local tourist attractions.

To that end, NCDOT should take a closer look at what’s needed to keep the Piedmont service operating at optimal capacity. That includes investments in rail switch lubricants that can ensure service continues unimpeded in the face of inclement weather and heavy use.

Investing in Proven Solutions

For the NCDOT Rail Division and railroad operators in other states, supporting passenger rail is a must. However, providing reliable service to passengers and avoiding transit delays depends on making smart investments in critical infrastructure — and that includes Midwest Industrial Supply, Inc.’s line of innovative rail switch lubrication products.

With more than 40 years of experience in the railroad industry, Midwest has the expertise and product innovation that public and private stakeholders need to make the most of their railroad infrastructure. Created in partnership with NASA, our Glidex® line of products is ideal for rail switches, car couplers, and other vertical surfaces — all without corroding the surface, negatively impacting local ecosystems, or washing off during inclement weather.

Eric Vantiegham is Midwest’s Rail & Transit Specialist. Skilled in product development, new business development, and strategic planning, he enjoys playing ice hockey and coaching his boys' youth teams.