MOREHEAD CITY — Amtrak’s new Thruway bus service connecting this city to the Wilson train station and points beyond begins today.
Morehead City, Amtrak and N.C. Department of Transportation officials celebrated the new service Tuesday with a ceremony at the downtown train depot, where the bus will pick up passengers, and boarded the bus for an inaugural run that also later included community representatives from other towns served along the route.
Similar ceremonies were to be held in Havelock, New Bern, Greenville and at the Wilson train station. A sign identifying the location as a Thruway stop stands outside the depot.
Morehead City Mayor Jerry Jones called the service “a dream come true” and he and other officials are hopeful ridership is heavy enough to eventually bring passenger trains to this area.
The bus connection is one of two new routes Amtrak added today, with the second serving Goldsboro, Kinston, Jacksonville and Wilmington. Both routes will connect with the Amtrak Palmetto train service at the Wilson station.
The Palmetto operates twice daily, serving 20 stations between New York and Savannah, Ga., and also provides access to the Amtrak national network, which serves more than 500 stations in 46 states, the District of Columbia and three Canadian provinces.
Palmetto Train 89 (NYP-SAV) departs Wilson Station at 2:22 p.m. and Palmetto Train 90 (SAV-NYP) departs Wilson Station at 2:23 p.m.
Allan Paul, director of operations for the NCDOT, who also has family in Beaufort, said his primary responsibility is passenger rail service.
“NCDOT is really excited about this new Thruway bus service. These two new routes in Eastern North Carolina are a shared vision of Amtrak and NCDOT for many years and we’re here today to celebrate the realization of that vision,” Mr. Paul said during the ceremony. “Just as Mayor Jones commented, good ridership on this route is what will lead eventually to passenger trains coming down.”
Mr. Paul said state officials are grateful that Amtrak had put so much work and “a substantial financial commitment” into each community served by the new service.
“So, get out there and ride this bus. It’s going to lead to a lot of good things for your community,” Mr. Paul said.
Tom Kirk, general superintendent for Amtrak’s Southern division, said a goal is to increase connectivity and mobility nationwide. The Thruway service is one of first new services Amtrak has offered on the East Coast in some time, Mr. Kirk said.
“This is a very good first step for us to enter into a new market down here on the Eastern Carolina Coast, one of my favorite places to go. I’m sure with the new bus service here we’re going to see a lot more ridership, both from the area and into the area, which should be a big economic boost hopefully to both Amtrak and the region.”
For a limited time, passengers can save 15 percent on Amtrak’s new Thruway service. To take advantage of the promotion, passengers must book their travel before Oct. 31 for travel between today and Nov. 3 with connections to Palmetto Trains 89 or 90 or Carolinian Trains 79 or 80.
To take advantage of the promotion, use discount code V467 when ordering tickets via Amtrak.com or the Amtrak mobile app. Advance reservations are required a minimum of three days prior to travel.
The offer is available only on coach seats with limited seats available.
The service uses a new e-ticketing system that allows passengers to print their tickets or by using a smartphone to present the eTicket to the conductor. It also allows for flexibility in making or changing reservations, Amtrak said.
Amtrak also advises booking early for Thanksgiving travel, the busiest travel week of the year.
More than 724,000 passengers traveled on Amtrak trains during the Thanksgiving holiday in 2011, the most ever for the holiday.
Contact Mark Hibbs at 252-726-7081, ext. 229; email firstname.lastname@example.org; or follow on Twitter @markhibbs.