A day does not go by without someone asking me about the status of bringing the train back home to Murphy. An important event happened this past Wednesday. At the request of the executive leadership of the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad (GSMR) and their parent company, American Heritage Railways, I was privileged to host a train summit. The planned location for this meeting was in the Murphy City Hall conference room; however, the attendee list quickly outgrew the space, so we moved the meeting to the Cherokee County Center of Applied Technology in Marble. The purpose of the summit was to start a serious evaluation of developing a rail freight component in addition to the excursion train. The addition of freight greatly improves GSMR’s Business Model while also adding a very important service to our community. Freight can be shipped out or into our community from anywhere in the Continental United States. We all know that we count on 18 wheelers to carry a massive amount of freight. We also can see the impact to our highways and bridges this is having across America.
First, let me share a list of very important leaders who attended. This meeting included John Harper, GSMR Corporate Family, Michael Gibson, Vice President of American Heritage Railways Rail & Freight Development, Kim Abbritton, Vice President & General Manager, Great Smoky Mountain Railroad, David Huskins, Governmental Affairs, Great Smoky Mountain Railroad, Jack Delman, NC Board of Transportation, Brian Burch, NCDOT Division Engineer Division 14, Neil Perry, Rail Program Manager, NCDOT Rail Division, Dena Magliola NCDOT Raleigh, Cheryl Collins NCDOT Raleigh, James Bridges, NC DOT Raleigh, Sarah Thompson, Executive Director Southwestern Commission, Rose Bauguess Senior Planner Southwestern Commission, Gary “Hippie” Westmoreland, Chair-Cherokee County Commissioners, Randy Wiggins Manager Cherokee County, James Reid Mayor, Andrews, Mike Sheidy, Alderman Andrews, Karen Watson, Murphy City Council, Ray Rapp, Chair Western NC Rail Committee, Larry Kernea, Murphy Electric Power Board, Paul Worley Cherokee County Economic Development, Rich Price, Jackson County Economic Development, Chad Simons, Manager Town of Murphy and Rick Ramsey Mayor, Murphy.
This summit provided a way for these leaders to openly discuss the importance of a rail freight component in pursuing a path forward for the Andrews to Murphy Rail Corridor owned by NCDOT. The next step will be to pair these leaders with our current industry executives coordinated by our Economic Development Team. In addition, there are possible new businesses that would become a reality by having the ability to ship by rail in our community.
The Andrews to Murphy (A2M) Corridor Reactivation has the attention of the North Carolina Legislature. The Transportation Committee requested and received an update on the current status of the A2M Project. North Carolina DOT Rail Leadership reconfirmed a cost estimate of 10.3 million dollars to bring the track back to a safe operating condition. While this sounds like a lot of money, it was recently mentioned that 13 million dollars was spent on replacing depot awnings. The State of NC is currently working with a 500 million dollar surplus. I realize that there are important needs for these funds throughout our state. I also realize that successfully bringing the train back will be an economic game changer for Murphy, Andrews, Cherokee County and the State of North Carolina.
I am told that we are closer than ever to having the train return. There is a lot of work ahead of us though.
Please continue to make your voice heard to our State Legislative leaders. I expect to be able to share another step forward for the train in the coming weeks. Our State Legislative Leaders have been true to their word that they will support a fair business review on the costs and expected return on investment for the train.
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