Charlotte is the largest city in North Carolina and it has a railroad station that doesn't do it justice, especialy with the amount of money and renovations the state of North Carolina has poured into so many other stations. The current station is located in the main freight yards in an industrial area about two miles north of downtown Charlotte. The Southern Railway built today's station in 1964 replacing the historic Southern Railway Station in downtown Charlotte that was demolished in 1962. A re-relocation of passenger trains back into downtown at this historic site has been on the drawing boards since 1991 but beginning construction has gone nowhere. The new estimated $200 million Gateway Station, would provide direct train connections to CATS Buses at the main downtown bus hub and LYNX Light Rail. Frequent, connecting CATS bus service into downtown is luckily available near today's station on Tryon Street. For passengers getting off northbound buses accessing the station is easy by just walking down the driveways. Getting southbound catching the bus to downtown is tricky because there is no safe place to cross busy Tryon Street, US-29 that provides all access to the station. The nearest crosswalk is one and half blocks north of the station at 29 Street.
To try and compensate an extra Route 11 bus for downtown begins at the AmTrak Station, 7 days a week at a stop directly outside the station (the CATS timetable says AmTrak) about 20 minutes after the scheduled arrival times of the two Piedmont Service trains and Carolinian that terminate at the station. Unfortunately these buses don't wait for delayed trains and both times I arrived in Charlotte I was on late trains with the direct bus connections long gone. Passengers taking the middle of the night Crescent (the train is scheduled for the service stop between 1:21am and 1:46am northbound and 2:20am and 2:45am southbound) are basically out of luck although for arriving passengers, the last CATS bus inbound (not stopping at the station) bus is at 1:40am. Passengers boarding the Crescent can take the bus up from downtown to the open and staffed 24 hours station since the last bus arrives at 1:46am. When I boarded the New York-bound Crescent here we ended up walking but this walk isn't one I would recommend, the area at night is extremely desolate.
The station has received continuous passenger train service since it was built, until 1979 when Amtrak took operations over from the Southern Railway (originally an Amtrak resister) there were two trains per day, the daytime Piedmont that operated between Atlanta and Washington, DC via Lynchburg and the middle of the night Southern Crescent. Just before Amtrak took over service in Charlotte was reduced to one middle of the night round-trip per day with just the Crescent stopping at the station. On May 12, 1990 day train service to Charlotte was finally restored with the inauguration of the Carolinian that runs from Charlotte to New York via Raleigh, Rocky Mount and Richmond (a less direct route than the Crescent but one that touches bigger population centers). In 1995 after delays partially from Norfolk Southern wanting a wye to be restored closed to the Charlotte Station to turn trainsets (the Carolinian was originally deadheaded 15 miles beyond the station to turn) the first daily Piedmont round-trip began, supplementing the Carolinian as an NC-only train to Raleigh. In 2008 a second midday round-trip was added. Today, the station is open 24-7.
The station house looks straight out of the 1960s. The building is small and made of concrete panels with pebble-dash. There is a ring of widows just before the walls reach the white flat roofline that extends around the station. There are a few additional windows too, below the walls, and the double-set of doors into the station are surrounded by glass. The station feels almost like the prototype of an AmStation. Inside is a decent sized waiting room with wooden benches (that lack arms). The station does fill-up, particularly with people arriving early for the middle of the night Crescent departures. Amenities for passengers include a ticket office at one corner of the station, opposite the glass entrance doors with two windows. There is a baggage check-in at the ticket counters and a separate baggage window for claims near the entrance to the platform tunnel. Although a different sign says baggage check-in is nearby here behind the station. The wall behind the agents is painted blue with a silver Amtrak logo. For restrooms in one corner of the station there seem to be four, two women, a men's room and a converted unisex ADA restroom. The station was built in 1964 the year the federal Civil Rights Act was passed so these numbers of restrooms (that are still original) are clearly from that era although the waiting room wasn't designed in a way for it to be clearly segregated. For food the station only has a few vending machines.
Streetside of the station doors immediately lead out to a covered drop-off are with a white canopy. Taxis are readily available waiting here. Beyond the drop off loop is a parking lot with 80 parking spaces. For long-term parking passengers must check-in with the ticket agent and receive a parking permit for their dashboard. Beyond the parking lot two driveways with sidewalks lead through some grassy medians to Tryon Street. Signage at the entrance to the station is unusual. There is a square illuminated sign with a modern Amtrak logo and a sign that greets people leaving the station that says: "The Safest Thing You Can Do At This Point is Enter Tryon St. Safely. Have a Safe Day."
To board trains in the station behind the ticket office is a sign above a set of double-glass doors. This sign says "Access to trains and platforms may be denied, even to ticketed passengers, 3 minutes prior to train departure, Ticket Passengers ONLY may access the platforms." Conductors normally scan passenger's tickets while in the station as they line up to go through the double-doors out to board trains. For the Crescent since Charlotte is a crew change point conductors walk through the waiting room scanning tickets and issuing boarding passes before these trains arrive at their middle of the night hours.
After getting ‘cleared to board' passengers enter a small pedestrian tunnel that has some bare walls and some walls with blue tiles, this tunnel leads down slightly before ending with two gradual tunnels up (one in either direction) to the middle of the station's single island platform for two tracks that nearly overlooks the roof of the station building. Chain-link gates can close-off access to the platform. Additional tracks siding tracks are beyond the station since it is on the edge of a freight yard on a bit of an embankment. The platform is extreme-long at about 15,000 feet. It is low-level. Concrete beams holding up a bare concrete canopy structure. It has been modernized with ADA platform warning strips and modern silver Amtrak Station Charlotte signs.
Photos 1-5: 16 July, 2014; 6-59: 17 July, 2014; 60: 18 July, 2014