Federal transportation officials praise NC railroad work

08/14/2014 7:40 PM

08/14/2014 9:59 PM

Railroad construction between Charlotte and Raleigh is a model example of how federal funding can be used for rail projects, transportation officials said Thursday.

In his visit to a Harrisburg construction site, Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo praised North Carolina’s railroad development and advocated for more consistent federal railway financing. The Harrisburg project – which involves eliminating roadway intersections with the tracks – is part of the state’s $520 million Piedmont Improvement Project, meant to enhance rail travel between Charlotte and Raleigh. It’s set for completion in 2017.

“The work that North Carolina’s doing here exemplifies why we need to be doing more across the country to improve the safety, reliability and efficiency of our rail system,” Szabo said.

The Piedmont Improvement Project is funded entirely by federal stimulus money.

The work in Harrisburg includes building a new bridge between N.C. 49 and Stallings Road in order to carry traffic over North Carolina Railroad tracks, eliminating two intersections with the tracks. Removing intersections is one of several aspects of the Piedmont Improvement Project, in addition to adding parallel tracks for freight trains and renovating stations, among other changes.

Ultimately, the project will allow Amtrak to add two additional daily round trips between Charlotte and Raleigh. Eventually, the route should have the capacity for high-speed trains going 90 mph, though that could be years away.

The upgrades to the route come in a time of growth for North Carolina’s railroads, NCDOT Rail Division Director Paul Worley said. Ridership on the Charlotte-Raleigh route has grown by nearly 240 percent since 2007, and the route ranked first in growth among all Amtrak lines in 2012.

“Gains like this don’t happen by chance,” Worley said. “It takes a concerted effort and ongoing investment.”

The Piedmont Improvement Project is a priority for the department, he said, with a “real sense of urgency” around the work. All construction is currently on schedule.

Szabo noted that federal funding for railroads is doled out “sporadically and erratically.” In order for initiatives such as the Piedmont Improvement Project to be consistently successful across the nation, new financing practices are needed, he said.

A bill to provide long-term, steady funding for railroads was presented to Congress earlier this year.

“At a time when our travel habits are changing ... this bill for the first time ever would provide rail projects with predictable dedicated funding just like we have for every other transportation mode,” Szabo said.

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