Thursday, November 20, 2008
The Triangle area of North Carolina has long awaited progress on a commuter train service and the following article from The Daily Tarheel details positive steps toward that end for the Triangle and the State.
State and local officials are preparing to expand North Carolina’s commuter railroad service to support a growing population and boost economic development.“Rail is a tool. It’s not the panacea, its not the do-all end-all, but it’s crucial to our sustained economic development,” said Patrick Simmons, director of the N.C. Department of Transportation Rail Division.The N.C. Railroad Company released an 11-month study in early October that proposes a $650 million expansion of the current freight system. The money will be used to transform the current system into a commauter rail system.
The total expansion could cover 141 miles and offer commuter rail service to two to three million North Carolinians.The project could cost as much as $2 million to $9 million per mile, including a possible $23.6 million expansion that will extend to Chapel Hill, said Scott Saylor, president of the N.C. Railroad Company.“It takes a lot of public support, which has not been measured,” he said.“Three things need to be there: one, the ridership, two, the funding and three, the railroads.”Saylor said the next step is a ridership survey to determine the demand for the expansion.Simmons said North Carolina’s population is poised for immense growth in the next 20 years, and rail is crucial to supporting that growth.“We have over 150 resolutions of support on file from towns, counties, cities and chambers of commerce across North Carolina asking for improved and expanded rail service,” Simmons said.“For North Carolina to compete economically with adjoining states in the international economy, we have to invest in ourselves.”David Bonk, Chapel Hill long range and transportation coordinator, said Durham, Wake and Orange counties are currently discussing the possibility of incorporating rail into their transportation systems in the next 25 years.Bonk said that the bill outlining the transportation plan and its associated costs will be presented to the N.C. General Assembly when the body convenes in January.The railroad expansion plan will be paid for by a half-cent sales tax increase, which Bonk said voters could decide on by next November.Federal legislation improving rail safety and reauthorizing rail expansion at the state and federal level was passed Oct. 16. It couldn’t come at a better time, Simmons said.“As people lose money, lose homes, lose jobs, the government will invest in infrastructure. Historically this is how you rebuild,” Simmons said.“It’s sort of back to the future for North Carolina.”By Nicholas Philippou, Staff Writer, The Daily Tarheel