RALEIGH, N.C. – Officials from the North Carolina Department of Transportation and Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation last week received federal confirmation and approval on the designated Washington, D.C. to Charlotte high-speed rail route. They also got the go-ahead to proceed with the second round of more detailed environmental studies.
“This is a significant milestone of which we’re very proud,” said North Carolina Transportation Secretary Lyndo Tippett. “We know of no other environmental study for any transportation project that was completed on such a large scale and in such a short time.”
The two transportation agencies began initial environmental work three years ago, examining nine possible routes along a 500-mile corridor. Normally environmental impact statements for transportation projects – whether rail, aviation or highway- are studied in smaller geographical segments and take five to six years to complete.
“We have achieved a key incremental step to put us on the right track to improve rail freight and passenger service,” said Virginia Transportation Secretary Whittington Clement.
The Federal Railroad Administration and Federal Highway Administration issued the formal Record of Decision on the project last week, marking completion of the first Tier I Environmental Impact Statement. The states are now discussing a plan that identifies the next steps necessary to build and implement high-speed rail in the Southeast.
As part of the second – or Tier 2 Study – phase, the departments will conduct in phases more detailed environmental and engineering studies on the corridor. One of the first steps for both states will be to work with CSX Transportation to solidify an agreement to rebuild and use the rail line that runs from Norlina to south of Petersburg.
The railroad took the section, known as the “S-line,” out of service 17 years ago. Reconstructing this portion of track will benefit high-speed rail and may help relieve some of the rail traffic congestion on CSX’s parallel mainline between Petersburg and Rocky Mount.
Additionally, each state will be working on various infrastructure improvements that will benefit high-speed rail and improve existing passenger and freight rail services. Improvements will include crossing upgrades, adding or replacing segments of double track, realigning curves and installing new train signals. The agencies also will begin planning for train station development and start examining new train equipment that could be used on the route.
Though early estimates indicate high-speed rail could be operational in the Southeast by 2010, rail passengers will notice several improvements in the interim. Beginning this week, passenger train trips between Raleigh and Charlotte will take 10-14 minutes less due to crossing improvements and increased train speeds.
Additionally, the NCDOT has been working with the North Carolina Railroad and Norfolk Southern on a series of track and signal improvements between Cary and Greensboro that will improve efficiency, increase capacity and reduce travel time. Work on the $24 million improvement project should be completed by the end of next year. Once completed, the travel time will be reduced by about another 20 minutes.