ASHEVILLE, N.C. — Several years ago, cities and towns in the foothills and mountains of western North Carolina were anxiously awaiting the return of passenger rail service.
In March 2001, the N.C. Department of Transportation adopted a phased plan to extend passenger rail service to Asheville and western North Carolina. Travelers have often listed Asheville as the No. 1 most requested destination in the United States that does not have Amtrak service. The plan called for passenger trains to run between Salisbury and Asheville with stops in Statesville, Hickory, Valdese, Morganton, Marion, Old Fort and Black Mountain.
The plan also included the renovating or building of train stations that would also have other community uses. Both Marion and Old Fort had their depots extensively renovated and these buildings have since become community centers for special events.
However, state budget constraints prompted the state DOT to delay the return of passenger rail service to the mountains. In the meantime, the department will continue to work with communities on stations and rail safety improvements, according to the N.C. Rail Division’s Web site.