Work on a final financial plan for a $452 million commuter rail line from Charlotte to southern Iredell County is on hold pending a study of whether the line can support both commuter and freight trains, Davidson Mayor John Woods said.
Norfolk Southern, which owns the “O” line on which the commuter trains would operate, proposed the study to make sure the line would still be able to accommodate existing freight traffic and the company’s plans to expand freight in the future, Woods wrote in a July 25 memo to a regional task force working on the Red Line Regional Rail project. Woods chairs the Red Line Task Force.
The study could take at least until the end of the year but won’t delay the planned 2017 opening of the commuter line, said Carroll Gray, former executive director of the Lake Norman Regional Transportation Commission and now a Red Line consultant. Gray updated the commission on the rail project at its meeting Wednesday night at Huntersville Town Hall.
In his memo, Woods said Norfolk Southern officials have discussed such a study with him, Carolyn Flowers, chief executive officer of the Charlotte Area Transit System, and Bill Thunberg, executive director of the Lake Norman Regional Transportation Commission.
On July 11, the Red Line Task Force sent a follow-up letter to John Edwards of Norfolk Southern telling him that the task force voted unanimously in favor of proceeding with the study, Woods said in his memo. Representatives from CATS and the N.C. Department of Transportation will work with Norfolk Southern to define the scope of the study, Woods said.
Under a proposal unveiled in December, the state and Charlotte Area Transit System each would pay 25 percent of the Red Line cost, or $113 million apiece. The seven governments - Charlotte, Huntersville, Cornelius, Davidson, Mooresville, and Mecklenburg and Iredell counties - would pay the other half.
All seven governments along the corridor must approve the project for work to proceed.
Supporters say the line would spur development in the Lake Norman area and southern Iredell County.
But the Iredell Board of County Commissioners in January voted 5-0 against the plan, saying it lacked details and will lead to higher taxes. Norfolk Southern also has criticized the project as “fundamentally incompatible” with its plans to grow its rail freight business in the state.
Because of Norfolk Southern's concerns and the Iredell vote against the proposal, Mecklenburg County commissioner Karen Bentley in late January asked that Mecklenburg “cease any further consideration” until all concerns are addressed with the state. Mecklenburg General Manager Bobbie Shields said the county’s staff would stop work on the proposal until those concerns are addressed.
Earlier this year, in a letter to Paul Morris, N.C. deputy secretary for transit, Norfolk Southern’s Edwards said the Red Line plan makes invalid assumptions about projected freight use of the O Line. But Edwards said the company is still willing to study the project.