Transit Adventures

The Research Triangle via the Piedmont Triad (including the NC Amtrak Connector Bus) to Charlotte

This Post is Part of my Finally the Piedmont Trip


The morning I spent on the first Peidmont of the day going from Raleigh to Burlington and doubling back to Durham. The plan for the afternoon is to take the midday Piedmont to Greensboro, use buses to High Point and continue on the evening Carolinian to Charlotte for the night. While I was looking at booking options I discovered that the Winston-Salem Connector (a bus connection from Winston-Salem to High Point) that could be added on to our two other segments at no extra charge, and as a 6000 series Amtrak Throughway Connection should be eligible for Amtrak points. The throughway connection requires paper tickets and I book us together on one paid reservation. Yesterday when we arrived in Cary I printed the tickets at a Quik-Trak Machine (since I then knew I would definitely be boarding in Durham). The throughway tickets came out as this (with a $0.00 ticket value), along with regular paper value tickets for our Raleigh to Greensboro and High Point to Charlotte Segments. I like the way the receipts look but I definitely don’t miss having to worry about losing my tickets:


The fine print saying it’s a worthless ticket:

We still decided to take the bus out to Winston-Salem and see what the bus driver would say (and made sure we had a $5 bill to pay the cash fare, worth it to not deal with dimes and nickels for the awkward 40¢ of the uneven fare)

I go back to the Durham Station about 5 minutes before the afternoon Charlotte-bound Piedmont Train #75 is due. It arrives on time.

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I board the Scotch Bonnet and sit down next to my travel companion. He tells me tickets were scanned in the Raleigh Station before boarding, I came up on the eTicket when scanned and sure enough soon the conductor comes and says “You must be the friend who got on in Durham.” The seat pitch is normal narrow, Regional-like pitch. The Black Squirrel must be an anomaly. There is also the normal band of outlets beneath the windows that are more normal. They’re not the sets of 4 in the floor. The train leaves on time. We soon head back to the Core Sound Baggage/Lounge/Vending Machine Car. Notice how the Piedmont Vending Machines serve both Coke and Pepsi (it’s the only place on Amtrak other than the VIA-operated cafe car of the Maple Leaf when its in Canada that offers Coke, the cans are also only a dollar instead of $2.25 the cafe cars charge.

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  • 12:27 – Pass an NS Locomotive waiting on a siding to pass us. We hit a few trees. We get welcomed aboard (Robert tells me for the third time) on the track to Burlington.
  • 12:43 –  Zoom through Mebrane, why isn’t there a station there?
  • 12:50 – Go over the Haw River, the one real scenic site and I’ve forgotten to photograph it both times I’ve passed over today.

I arrive in Burlington again at 12:53 and I use the stop to photograph the vending machines. We leave at 12:55. The one woman boarding walks back with the conductor to do a cash on board.

  • 12:59 – Pass a fire department and are in Elon, quite a large town that could use a station with plenty of houses. We sit at a two person table in the baggage/vending machines car.
  • 1:03 – Pass a red caboose in Gibsonville. We’re surprised at what good speed were making on the freight line.
  • 1:06 – Past some woods with logging.
  • 1:11 – Under a highway and past some fields.
  • 1:14 – Get the announcement for Greensboro as we enter passing East Lake Park. We see downtown.

We arrive in Greensboro at 1:16 to a restricted access island platform on a bit of an embankment with a separate platform just north and at a different angle of ours for the Crescent. I go up and get a photo of the locomotive. My hope is to loiter on the platform to get the Eastbound Piedmont #74 due at 1:34 but its running 25 minutes late and realize that much time is definitely pressing my luck. I get a fairly comprehensive photo essay of the restricted access platform.

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Then I head into the pedestrian tunnel that leads into the station,

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Then into the historic main waiting room with restored mural of the Southern Railway System, another spectacular North Carolina’s Amtrak Station. I’m a fan (of the two sets) of phone booths with Cell Phone booths. I assume the waiting room previously had a wall down the middle of it, since their two sets of restored phone booths and space for two separate sets of restrooms at each end of the waiting room.

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Heading outside:

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We’ve find a nearby grade-crossing, just beyond the station.


There is also a bridge farther beyond and we decide to check that out, I assume this Piedmont is still running with two locomotives since its the same consist that brought us over. We get to the bridge (that isn’t a great shot) and the train comes immediately. We wish we had stayed at the grade crossing.

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We both need some internet time and find a nice nearby cafe. Greensboro feels like a real happening place with plenty of people out in downtown. We head back to the Greensboro Station and head upstairs to the GTA bus hub, I think in former freight buildings for the bus to Winston-Salem. I assume the buses have taken over former sidings.

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PART Bus Route 2 arrives at 2:55. We pay the awkward $2.40 fare and take our transfers from the operator that have been pre-printed for faster boarding. It’s a Suburban Orien V Next Generation, the Greensboro Express from here to the PART Hub where the triad buses all connect (basically everyone makes one transfer) we head out of town past houses. Were on I-40 at 3:08. Were on the freeway for one exit to the Four Seasons mall. The only intermediate stop. Then were back on I-40. Were the first bus to arrive ten minutes early to the PART Hub. A few minibuses on shuttle routes are already there. The PART Hub is a modern transit center with a central loop canopy and small waiting room with an office in the middle of nowhere.

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PART Route 1 to Winston-Salem shows up a few minutes before 3:30 and we board swiping our transfers (not dipping), the driver has a bag at the ready to throw them away. We get on I-40 and switch to Buissiness 40 that is an enter throughway freeway spur that goes via downtown instead of around it. The ride is through trees.  We eventually get off the highway and stay on Business 40. We arrive in Winston-Salem to its large transit hub a little before 4 o’clock and immediately notice the fact WSTA (the Winston-Salem Transit Authority) is using RTSs with and older blue livery along with new

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We go and find a good crab shack for a late lunch/early dinner, I have a disgustingly delicious Fried Oyster Sandwich. We then head back to the bus hub. I stop and show our Amtrak tickets to a WSTA agent in the station who simply says Bus Bay 3, nothing about having $2.40 ready to pay our bus fare.


The Winston-Salem Connector comes in, a normal PART Suburban Transit bus, a Gilling. around 5:05 and we board. I make a point of flashing my ticket, (pretending to think this ticket will cover my trip) to the driver. He simply says “The ticket only exists so you can read the fine print, the fare is $2.40” We end up paying our fare with a five dollar bill. $2.40 is such an awkward amount.

The bus leaves and its non-stop trip via the freeways to the edge of High Point. The schedule lists the empty North High Point Park & Ride Lot as a stop but we don’t bother pulling in. One women gets off at the High Point Regional Medical Center, the other people are like us, connecting to trains (since the 3 daily trains, the 2 Piedmonts and the Carolinian are scheduled to meet each other between High Point and Greensboro one NC Connector Bus can serve trains in both directions).


We get to High Point and are immediately greeted by an NC Station Host, barking at us that he needs to see our tickets. We dig them out of our bags and show them to him. The High Point Station is located in a trench below grade. The host is in charge of unlocking the gate and elevator down to the island platform below with only ticketed passengers allowed down to the platform. He also warns us that the Carolinian is running an hour late, we of course already know this.

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We photograph the Evening northeast-bound Piedmont from a nearby overpass

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We also take a walk through downtown High Point. This is the deadest downtown I’ve been to in a long time. There is nearly no traffic and absolutely nothing going on. We only notice one open restaurant and way too many furniture stores. There is also bunting for worldwide countries all around. We also walk by a huge convention center and figure out the city is dead except for two weeks a year, each week of the semi-annual Furnature Exposition and Market.

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Around 7:45 the gate is unlocked and I head down to the platform. Soon the station attendant announces that the Carolinian will soon arrive and for ticket passengers only to proceed down to the platform.

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The Carolinian pulls in at 7:50. Unloading takes awhile because of a women with a walker needing help getting of the train and the crew of course only opening a few doors so we can’t get on while she gets off. The people picking her up have clearly ignored the “Ticketed passengers on the platform only” announcement. They are providing vital help to her and her travel companion with their luggage. She’s clearly a frequent traveler in High Point and I also hear her say “Oh good, they let you down onto the platform.” It feels like the times I’ve snuck down to the platforms in Penn Station to put my grandmother on her Empire Service Trains back to Syracuse. The last time the conductor saw me and winked.



The Carolinian Leaves at 7:53 from High Point. We immediately pass a freight train into the evening light. The trench soon ends and we reach another grade-crossing making good speed. Then it’s off into the trees. We have a headphone leaker ahead of us.

  • 8:00 – Go through the next town. There is a caboose and depot turned visitors center we pass yet another freight train making good speed on fast track.
  • 8:03 – Reach another forest of trees.
  • 8:05 – Pass some earthmoved dirt. Then a nice farmhouse.
  • 8:07 – Switch into a left hand track.
  • 8:11 – Go through Lexington quickly, then back to trees.
  • 8:16 – See a stream veer off slog the line.
  • 8:19 – We follow a road as the sun sets on the trees.
  • 8:22 – Start seeing houses as we come into Spencer. I see the spur that leads into North Carolina Railway Museum. We then reach a large freight yard.
  • 8:24 – We get the announcement for Salisbury as we take some switches hard. I see a former freight platform, a cemetery and some diverging tracks.

We Arrive in Salisbury at 8:25 to a fenced off access controlled platform. Everyone is waiting beyond the fence. I’m happy I’ve planned this trip getting on and off a train at each stop. Tomorrow will be a quick round-trip. There is a grade crossing just south of the station’s platform. The sun continues setting. We get the cafe will be closing in 10 minutes after leaving Kannapolis.

  • 8:34 – The trees in dusk and towns simply seem to flow into each other
  • 8:35 – China Grove with a water tower and buildings flowing into each other.
  • 8:39 – Landis and mounts of dirt and removed trees. I think his is where a new track is getting added.
  • 8:41 – Make good speed past modular homes and over bridges. See a former freight house and slow down. another fenced off platform. I see bus stops. Another neat brick depot.

We stop at 8:41 in Kannapolis for a bunch of discharging passengers. There a few teenagers and the conductor says “You all have people to pick you up. We leave at 8:44 from the fenced off platform with potted plants at each end. I see the fence controlling agent.

  • 8:48 – A wide double-laned freeway.
  • 8:50 – See some refrigerator cars in the dusk.
  • 8:52 – Slow down in the dusk. We take a track that feels like jointed rail.
  • 8:58 – Pass warehouses
  • 9:05 – Follow a road with houses clearly off in the distance; were in the suburbs.
  • 9:09 – We see cars and approach Charlotte

We arrive in Charlotte at 9:12, exactly an hour late. I stop to take a photo of the Charlotte skyline south of the 1960s train station in an industrial area on the edge of a train yard and get a beep from a baggage cart. She says “Your Fine [Taking Photos] Just didn’t want  to run you over”



Then its down a ramp and into a tunnel to leave the platform



We need the city bus to take us downtown. It stops just beyond the station parking lot, along the access road at Tyron Street. Unforchunately, the busy Amtrak station has no traffic light and running across busy Tyron Street doesn’t feel safe. This means we walk to a third of a mile down to the nearest traffic light at Dalton Avenue. We at least catch Bus Route 22 as it turns the corner instead of waiting for route 11 (even at this hour there is good, frequent service every 15 minutes).

We head downtown to the min Transit Center a large covered bus loop in downtown. The hotel were staying in is a Quality Suites out in the suburbs beyond the southern end of the LYNX Light Rail. There was nothing reasonable available downtown, it turns out a sorority convention is going on, with the light rail car destination signs welcoming the group.



We get on the LYNX Light Rail which is your standard light rail line except entirely along its own ROW with no street running (or median running) and all grade-crossings have gates. Portions of the line through downtown are also grade-separated. The frequency is every 20 minutes at this hour. The train leaves on time at 10:02, two couples (both women extremely drunk) start trying to talk to us, their suburbanites who discuss how they rarely ride the light rail. We reach the southern terminus at 10:25.

Were a bit hungry and although we can catch the 10:30 Route 58 bus to our hotel we realize its best to head across the parking lots by the station to the nearby 24 hour Steak-n-Skake for a late night snack. We have a moment when the service is slowly and think we might be walking the 1.8 miles to our hotel. Luckily our food comes at 10:55, we quickly eat.

We make the last Route 58 bus at 11:10 on the freeway for one exit. The route is basically a giant loop and were at near the end of it. We finally arrive at the much less nice Quality Suites with No Vacancy  signs on the doors at 11:30 and promptly pass out in our large (with a mini-fridge, microwave, and couch) room after an extremely long day.