A new bus line bringing Amtrak service within a 2 1/2-hour ride of Havelock.

A new bus line bringing Amtrak service within a 2 1/2-hour ride of Havelock and other eastern North Carolina cities took its inaugural ride Tuesday.

One bus route starts in Morehead City and includes stops in Havelock, New Bern and Greenville before wrapping up at the Amtrak station in Wilson.

The other bus route includes Wilmington, Jacksonville, Kinston and Goldsboro.

"The new Thruway service is going to provide easy, convenient and coordinated connection throughout the Amtrak national network," said Todd Stennis, an Amtrak spokesman.

The bus is scheduled to arrive at the Havelock Tourist and Event Center at 10:49 a.m. and arrive in Wilson at 1:27 p.m. On the return trip, the bus leaves Wilson at 2:45 p.m. and is scheduled to arrive in Havelock at 5:26 p.m.

"It will be great for our Havelock residents and our base to have another mode of transportation, and itís free advertising for us," said Havelock city manager Jim Freeman, pointing out that the bus stop is at the tourist center where exhibits feature Marine Corps aviation and Cherry Point.

New York City is the northernmost destination available via the Palmetto train line, while Savannah, Ga., represents the lineís southernmost city. Other major stops on the line include Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Richmond, Va.

Marines are expected to heavily use the Jacksonville and Havelock stops because of their proximity to Camp Lejeune and Cherry Point.

"Itís an excellent opportunity for the military," Havelock Commissioners Danny Walsh said. "Any Marineís wife and two kids can jump on the bus and the train and feel safe doing it, and new Marines can do the same coming here. In the good ole days, most all of the Marines came in by train."

The bus line is exclusively available to Amtrak passengers, who will be able to make their entire bus and train trip with one ticket purchase. It is one of about 350 Thruway bus services run by Amtrak throughout the country.

"We normally go to Washington in March or April, and next time I think Iím hoping to take the train," Havelock Mayor Jimmy Sanders said. "Union Station is only about two or three blocks off the Washington Mall. Itís just walking distance, just turn left and youíre at the Capitol. For a country boy, itís not much of a walk at all."

Passengers can book tickets by calling 1-800-USA-RAIL or through the Amtrak website at www.amtrak.com.