Mass transit, like in many southern cities, has been admittedly lacking in Charleston. We have an expansive bus service that does a serviceable job, however any semblance of light rail vanished with the dismantling of the electric trolley cars in the 1930s.
Charleston as a Leader in Mass Transit
There was a time when, especially among southern states, Charleston spearheaded developments in mass transit. The first regularly scheduled passenger train service in the United States departed from downtown Charleston in 1830 – following its inaugural voyage passengers assailed its mind-bending speed of up to 25 miles per hour.
Later, an extensive electric trolley service was established that operated throughout the main thoroughfares of downtown Charleston until 1938, running all the way into Park Circle with a fare price of a nickel (that’s $0.05).
For beachgoers, Charlestonians would hop across the Cooper River (by ferry before the bridges were built), and then ride a trolley through Mount Pleasant to Sullivan’s Island and Isle of Palms. Fun fact: the stations of Sullivan’s Island are named for the trolley stops.
When walking downtown, you can in some places see the trolley car tracks still embedded in the asphalt. Could you imagine if those lines were still a thing?
With a Storied History
It’s a step in the right direction. Local authorities deemed it beneficial to have some kind of facility that would service in one location what few mass transit options we currently have, and those that may develop in the future. After some fits and spurts about where to locate the facility, the powers that be settled on the same property that has housed the Lowcountry’s only Amtrak station since the 1950s.
As you can imagine, this place has some history. Located north of downtown Charleston and adjacent to Park Circle, the train station boasted a super mid-century design – like The Jetsons with a Charleston drawl. Constructed prior to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the station was designed with waiting areas and restrooms that were segregated by race. And while the segregation was of course eliminated, that’s about the only update the place ever received.
A New Place of Connection
Two long distance train lines run through Charleston – and both deserve a station worthy of the name.
The Palmetto runs daily from New York to Savannah, and The Silver Meteor makes its nightly stop during the New York to Miami route.
In addition, the Charleston area’s bus service CARTA will be utilizing the facility as a hub, as well as the regional bus service Southeastern Stages.
Inside, the station is open to natural light and constructed with materials of organic stone and wood elements. There are ticket counters for Amtrak and CARTA, as well as a community room and a display featuring the history of Liberty Hill, the neighborhood that houses the Intermodal Facility.