NC: ‘Just much easier.’ Hundreds ride special trains to the US Open in Pinehurst

June 14, 2024
The U.S. Open Express is a special train that Amtrak and the N.C. Department of Transportation are running between the Triangle and Pinehurst.

Chris Creech of Johnston County swore he would never take another train 20 years ago after a 12-hour trip from Raleigh to Orlando turned into an 18-hour ordeal.

“I said next time I ride on a train it would be in a wooden box,” Creech says.

Yet there he was early Thursday morning, with wife Christy and two friends, waiting to board the U.S. Open Express, a special train that Amtrak and the N.C. Department of Transportation are running between the Triangle and Pinehurst. Being able to step off a train a short walk from the golf course on the opening day of the tournament was enough for Creech to reconsider his vow.

He had plenty of company. Amtrak sold all 300 seats on both of the morning and evening trains Thursday and Friday and also filled another 60-seat car on Saturday and Sunday.

“We had to add cars because of ticket sales, and we’re still sold out,” said Joey Hopkins, the N.C. Secretary of Transportation. “I mean, that’s a good problem to have.”

NCDOT arranged for the special trains to help relieve traffic to the Open and give people an alternative to driving. For fans like Matt Verboon of Raleigh, the $50 round-trip ticket was well worth avoiding the drive and hunt for a place to park.

“This is just much easier,” Verboon said.

The U.S. Open Express drew both veterans of train travel and people who have never ridden a passenger train before. Everyone was dressed for a hot day outside, and almost no one carried an overnight bag.

The first train left Raleigh Union Station at 7 a.m. Thursday and, after a stop in Cary to collect more passengers, was due in Pinehurst a little after 9 a.m. The return train leaves Pinehurst at 6:35 p.m. and is scheduled to arrive in Cary about 8:30 p.m. and Raleigh Union Station 15 minutes later.

The trains mostly follow the route used by Amtrak’s Silver Star, which passes through Raleigh, Cary and Southern Pines on its way between New York and Miami.

But in Aberdeen, the Open Express switches to tracks owned by the Aberdeen Carolina & Western, a short-line railroad that serves the south central part of the state. Aberdeen Carolina & Western’s tracks pass right through Pinehurst, allowing the Open Express to stop near the Pinehurst No. 2 golf course where the tournament takes place.

Hopkins noted that NCDOT and Amtrak make special stops at big events along its routes, including the N.C. State Fair in Raleigh and the Lexington Barbecue Festival. It takes more effort to use tracks not on an Amtrak route, but Hopkins said NCDOT will look for ways to do it again.

“We want to expand passenger rail,” he said. “We’d like to do intercity when we can. But short of that these special event trains, they make sense, especially when you have large numbers of people going places.”

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