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Train watching in Selma, NC

Train watching in Selma, NC
Train watching in Selma, NC
Marianna DeBolt, 2014

The railroad crossing blinks and dings as the arms lower just after a headlight glistens on the rails heading south to the Selma Smithfield Amtrak Station or as locals know it as the Selma Union Depot Station in Selma, North Carolina. Peeking around the corner is the Amtrak auto train bound for Orlando, Florida. Hang a while at the station and the Selma train watchers know the approximate times and types of trains that run by daily. Who are the Selma train watchers? They are an unorganized group of friends from neighboring counties gathering to visit and watch trains at the depot.

Get your camera ready
Marianna DeBolt, July 2014

Selma, North Carolina was born a railroad town from the need of a depot for the then North Carolina Railroad in 1867. In 1892, the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad bought the land to build a crossing through Selma making it an intersection for two separate railroads. Approaching it's 100th anniversary in ten years, the Selma Union Depot was built in 1924 to serve the Atlantic Coast Line and Southern Railways by A.M. Griffin. Griffin was the architect of Wilson, NC's station, north of Selma as well.

Today four Amtrak passenger trains run through Selma with two making stops, the Palmetto and the Carolinian. The intersecting freight is Norfolk Southern and CSX.

Reading the historical panels inside the Selma station, the 1960's brought less of a need for passenger trains and many stations including Selma loss their traffic with the station closing soon after. As with many of our nation's historical sites, repairs and renovations become very expensive as age and deterioration take over. During my years of personal visiting and train watching, I watched the building and landscape fall in disrepair. The Selma depot is where my love of trains got its start. I got my railroad influence from my uncle Loomis Crocker, a native of Selma, NC, a freight/mobile agent with the Southern Railway. I remember visiting him at his offices in Selma and Goldsboro, listening to his stories and amazed at the size of the trains as they approached and passed through town.

Luckily, the townspeople rallied together to save their local history from demolishment in 1975. I remember when Railroad Days were actually held at the station in Selma with carnival rides, vendors, and railway displays. Sources say the first celebration was held in 1976, our nation's bicentennial. Amtrak passenger trains began running and stopping in the early 1980's, bringing a little life back to the still closed station.

Finally in the 2000's, after intense renovation and landscaping, the Selma Amtrak station opened to the public in all it's glory. According to the article in www.greatamericanstations.com, it was 1982 that Selma's station was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Visitors and passengers are welcome to visit the station daily that shares the history of Selma, railroad artifacts and photographs on loan from families with a comfortable place to wait before boarding your trains. Tommy Price, of Princeton is a weekend desk clerk that will provide train schedules and other Amtrak information. Although tickets can not be traditional bought through him, there is a ticket/reservation machine near the front door. Mr. Price says "the station is open seven days a week from 10:00am to 4:30 pm" usually meaning an hour before the trains arrival and an hour after they depart.

I hear a train horn blowing through Smithfield, south of Selma -must be a CSX coming! Camera- ready!

The slideshow with this article shows the interior and exterior of the station.

Address: 410 E Railroad Street, Selma, NC.

The renovated, air conditioned station has free vehicle, motor coach and RV parking available, vending machines inside and clean period style restrooms.