Charlotte officials broke ground Friday on Gateway Station, which will bring intercity rail service back to uptown for the first time in more than five decades — but it will still be years before passengers can hop off their train and walk straight into Charlotte’s city center.
Located at what’s now a gravel parking lot on the corner of Graham and Fourth streets, near BB&T Ballpark, local officials hope the rail station will be an “iconic” entry into a rapidly developing Charlotte.
“This is going to be the gateway to Charlotte,” said Charlotte Area Transit System CEO John Lewis. He said the station will also encourage more development in the surrounding blocks, something promoters are counting on.
While city officials’ previous estimates set 2024 as the likely potential start for passenger rail service, Lewis said trains could start rolling two to three years earlier.
“We’re getting the infrastructure work done,” Lewis said. He called the groundbreaking the “tipping point” of the long-awaited project. The work started today will include signals, bridges, a rail platform, and 2,000 feet of rail tracks.
Officials have discussed the idea of building an uptown rail station for over two decades, said Michael Smith, CEO of Charlotte Center City Partners, which works for the development of Charlotte’s urban core.
“These are city-changing projects,” Smith said. “This is looking at a century. Think about the great train stations of Europe.”
The station will be constructed using a combination of state, local and federal funding, including a $30 million federal grant, $48.75 million from the N.C. Department of Transportation, and $33 million from the city of Charlotte. There is no developer signed yet to build the station building for passengers — required before passenger trains can start service — but Lewis said one will likely be chosen by the end of the year. The design of the building will be completely up to that contractor, Lewis said.
Charlotte’s current intercity train station on North Tryon Street is small, outdated, and disconnected from uptown. But Lewis has a distinct vision for the new Gateway Station as one of Charlotte’s defining landmarks.
“Five to 10 years from now, it’s Monday night football. When they cut to commercial, what is that photo of Charlotte that they’re gonna show?” Lewis said. “This (station) is what I believe that will be.”