We’re not building high-speed rail in North Carolina – and, for now, that’s a good thing.
What North Carolina is building instead might be called better and better rail.
Much of this federally funded work is delivering benefits already. The Department of Transportation is in a furious pitch of construction this year all along the state’s railroad tracks between Raleigh and Charlotte in an umbrella effort called the Piedmont Improvement Program.
By the time the $520 million program is finished in late 2017, DOT will have closed nearly 40 street-level rail crossings to make train and car travel safer. Crossings on a dozen roads will be replaced with bridges. Two more trains will begin making the daily round trip between Raleigh and Charlotte – bringing the total to five.
That means the state’s two biggest cities, and seven stops along the way, will be linked with Amtrak service running every three hours during the day.
With those expanded options, we can expect a continued rise in ridership for a route that serves 450,000 travelers a year.
It was six years ago that President Barack Obama’s administration distributed $8 billion to start what he called a national network of high-speed trains. North Carolina was in the second tier of the top-dollar states with $545 million. California took home the grand prize, $2.89 billion.
North Carolina has increased its top train speeds from 59 to 79 mph in the past 20 years, cutting an hour off the travel time from Raleigh to Charlotte. That’s down now to 3 hours, 10 minutes – making trains a reasonable alternative to cars for growing numbers of travelers.
The ongoing improvements will allow DOT and Amtrak to knock more minutes off the schedule in the next couple of years.
Better and better speed. Not high speed, but frequent service at pretty good speed.
DOT rail improvement highlights
Using federal funds awarded in 2010, the state Department of Transportation Rail Division expects to complete its $520 million Piedmont Improvement Program by October 2017, including:
▪ Two daily passenger train round-trips added between Raleigh and Charlotte with seven stops in between – bringing the daily schedule to five round trips
▪ Passenger stations renovated at Cary, Burlington, High Point and Kannapolis
▪ 12 bridges built to carry trains over or under automobile traffic at crossings
▪ 38 street-level rail crossings closed
▪ 31 miles of double track (between Greensboro and Charlotte) and passing sidings (between Raleigh and Greensboro) to carry more freight and passenger trains and reduce delays
▪ More miles of tracks realigned to straighten curves, allow faster train speeds and reduce trip times