For the past 25 years, the Amtrak Carolinian has carried passengers from Selma to Charlotte, New York and nearly two dozen points in between.
Amtrak recently celebrated the Carolinian’s anniversary at stops along the train’s route, including Selma’s Union Station.
In Selma, the celebration offered cake and activities on May 9 and snacks, refreshments and freebies for riders to grab through the following Monday, station attendant Pervorrice Banks said.
The passenger railroad also raffled off special coins commemorating the anniversary, Banks said, and one person won a free round trip to any place the Carolinian stops in North Carolina.
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Amtrak has been a good partner with the Town of Selma, Mayor Cheryl Oliver said. The passenger-rail service provides convenient transportation to residents and brings people to town who spend money in local shops, restaurants and hotels.
“Any time you can be bringing people through your town, it’s a good thing,” she said.
In addition to the Carolinian, the Amtrak Palmetto also makes daily stops in Selma on its way between New York and Savannah, Ga. Altogether, the two routes served 13,401 riders in Selma and generated $777,856 in revenue for Amtrak in 2014, according to the company’s Great American Stations Project.
In addition to the economic boost it provides, Oliver said Amtrak contributes to the culture and history of Selma, which traces its roots back to the rails in the 1800s.
“Our history is that of a railroad town,” she said. “It’s kind of how we came to be, so we value it.”
Selma’s Union Station opened in 1924 to serve the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad and the Southern Railway, and it is listed on the U.S. Department of the Interior’s National Register of Historic Places. The station was set for demolition in 1975, but the town saved the building by taking ownership and converting it into a museum. The station returned to its original purpose in 1982, when Amtrak began scheduling stops in Selma along the Palmetto line.
A $3.4 million renovation of the station was completed in 2002, according to the Great American Stations Project, with 80 percent of funding coming from the federal government and the rest split between state and local sources. As part of that project, the station’s waiting room was outfitted with informational placards and exhibits that document the deeply intertwined history of Selma and the railroad.
Amtrak’s stop at Selma’s Union Station fulfills a variety of needs, many of which were on display May 11 during the 25th anniversary celebration for the Carolinian.
Dorette Sellers of Micro was buying tickets for a family vacation to go sightseeing in New York with her two daughters, her grandson and his cousin. It will be their first times riding a train, Sellers said, and they’re excited for the new experience.
“I’m glad there’s a train here that we don’t have to go to Raleigh or Wilson or somewhere to catch,” she said. “We should have a pretty good view for what little bit we go through the country.”
For Kaniecia Williams, the Carolinian provided a way home to Charlotte after her car broke down during a visit to Selma. Williams said she appreciates that the train has wireless Internet access, and her 2-year-old daughter, Naomi Wells, said it’s fun to take the ride.
“This is my second time going to Charlotte on the train,” Williams said. “I’d much rather drive, but it’s nice to have the train if you need it.”
James Heath lives right across the street from Union Station, and he often comes to watch the Amtrak and freight trains as they pass through town. Heath particularly enjoys watching the trains go by at night, and he said it helps take his mind off some of life’s troubles.
“We’ve got a good group of guys who come and watch the trains sometimes,” Heath said. “I’d love to ride the train, but I can’t afford to. I’ve got too many bills to pay out here.”