Passenger activity at Henderson, Norlina, and La Crosse : LUSENET : ACL and SAL Railroads Historical Society : One Thread

The NC DOT has asked us for seek information to assist with the agency's environmental studies for possible future high-speed passenger service along the old "S-line" running from Raleigh north through Henderson, Norlina, La Crosse, and on to Petersburg. DOT needs any details on passenger activity at the old Henderson, Norlina, and La Crosse stations. This is part of their evaluation for the future potential of those sites. Passenger boarding numbers would be most desirable, and anecdotal data will be helpful also - for example, memories of the approximate number of passengers at those stations. Also, the number of trains that stopped at each station would be helpful. I believe information for the 1960s time frame would be the most useful, although perhaps info for the Amtrak years would help too.

-- Larry Goolsby (, March 10, 2004


I rode the Star in 1986 from Raleigh to Richmond and back one week before the last run through Norlina. It stopped in Henderson on the way up and back. I also rode the northbound Star out of Raleigh a week later on the last northbound S line run. It stopped in Henderson on that grey morning also.

-- Turner Battle (, December 20, 2004.

As a child, I rode the Palmland between my home in New York and Norlina Junction. The train seemed to always have a reasonably large passenger ridership. I always enjoyed this train, even during the years of Jim Crow when while boarding at Norlina, the conductor always took pains to seat the white and black passengers into separate cars. My uncle, Walter Hodges, was a porter for the SAL. He served mainly on the Portsmouth route and later on trains between Richmond and the south. I remember going with my aunt to give him his lunch as his train paused at Norlina in the early evening on its way to Raleigh. For some reason, he was unable to obtain food from the diner. I have no idea which train this may have been. I last rode the Palmland in 1969 when my grandmother passed away at her home in Warrenton, N.C. I-85 probably played largely into the demise of the old S-Line although CSX had no way of knowing that future overcrowding of its main line through Rocky Mount would force it to reconsider the S-line as a possible alternative route some of its trains.

-- (, October 16, 2004.

Regarding AMTRAK service on the former S-line, I though Henderson was a stop for the "Star" for a while. I photographed the plexiglass AM-bench shelter back in the '80's. Although I remember when coming southbound from Richmond on the Star in '86, it did not make a stop in Henderson.

-- Bob Venditti (, March 13, 2004.

I can provide some information from my files in response to the NC DOT's request, although I am not sure that it provides much support for the establishment of high speed rail service.

When CSX abandoned the former SAL line from Petersburg to Norlina in 1987, the abandonment authority was sought in 3 separate petitions. Its first application to the ICC was for authority to abandon the section between McKenney and Meredith. The second application covered the northern end of the line between South Collier and McKenney and the third covered that portion from Meredith to Norlina. In its first application, CSXT advised the ICC that only two passenger trains operated over the line segment each day (the northbound and southbound "Silver Star") and that it had reached an agreement with Amtrak to reroute these two trains. In a footnote to its decision approving CSX's first application (Docket No. AB-55, Sub-No.185X), the ICC stated that: "Although Amtrak is not a party to this proceeding, it has been served with a copy of CSX's petition and has not responded. Amtrak, therefore, will be considered as having concurred in CSX's statement regarding the rerouting of its passenger service over the line". In fact, no Amtrak train stopped at any station on the former S-line between Richmond and Raleigh. The SAL's former station in Petersburg on Commerce Street was closed by the SCL in June of 1970 and since that date all passenger operations at Petersburg had been handled through the former ACL station at North Petersburg (Ettrick). Hence, there was no passenger service to Henderson, Norlina and LaCrosse during the Amtrak years. Most of the local passenger service on the S-line had come to an end during the late-1960's prior to the creation of Amtrak. I have the RF&P Railroad's passenger train discontinuance files and, since most of the trains were jointly operated with the SCL, the files also contain data on the SCL's application for discontinuances. By the late- 1960's, most of the local passenger service was being performed by the railroads' mail and express trains. When the railroads lost the mail and/or express business handled a train, discontinuance was sought by the railroads. In its effort to discontinue the operation of these trains, the SCL produced a number of brochures making its case for the train's removal. Those brochures contain data on ridership. From those brochures, here is the ridership given by the SCL for certain trains at the requested locations:

Train No. 8 ("Sunland") (Jacksonville to Richmond) Average number of passengers entraining and detraining daily for 10 month period in 1968.

Station Entraining Detraining

Henderson 1.99 .31 Norlina .87 .09 LaCrosse .27 .01

Train No. 15 (Richmond to Hamlet) Daily average entraining and detraining passengers July 1967-June 1968

Station Entraining Detraining

Henderson .07 .74 Norlina .08 .49 LaCrosse .03 .11 Trains 3 and 4 (Richmond and Atlanta)

No figures were given for individual stations. Instead the brochure stated that: "The maximum number of passengers aboard train # 3 at any given point between Richmond and Atlanta was 8 during the six months July-December 1967. On train # 4, for the same period of time, the maximum number of passengers aboard at any given point was only 6."

I rode train # 3 and #4 during the late-1960's between Petersburg and Alberta and between Petersburg and Richmond and can personally attest to the fact that few people rode these trains. Of course, the trains were operated primarily as mail and express trains so the coach used on the train had few amenities. I always enjoyed the ride, but I loved riding trains. Many of the people on board were railroaders deadheading between terminals.

I would be happy to provide the NC DOT with copies of the brochures if they would be of any assistance.

-- William E. Griffin, Jr. (, March 13, 2004.

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