Years in the making, North Carolina celebrates billion-dollar investment in passenger rail

NC NEWSLINE - U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said it has been decades since the country has properly invested in the speed and reliability Americans want when it comes to passenger rail.

But that is about to change.

Buttigieg was in Raleigh Monday to highlight an $8.2 billion investment in 10 passenger rail projects funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. North Carolina’s share of the funding is a whopping $1.09 billion, the largest grant the NC Department of Transportation has ever received.

“It’s a generational undertaking,” Buttigieg told an audience at Raleigh’s Union Station.

Buttigieg said while the improvement project would not be completed overnight, it would be done swiftly.

“With this funding, North Carolina will be able to bring new train service connecting Raleigh to Wake Forest, upgrading tracks and improving the safety at several rail crossings, and laying the groundwork for a key section of the Southeast Corridor that when complete will connect Raleigh, to Richmond, to Washington, D.C. to the Northeast Corridor.”

The “S-Line” route is a freight rail line, owned by CSX. North Carolina officials are working to finalize a deal to purchase the corridor in our state.

The Federal Railroad Administration announced the grant award last week, but Monday marked an opportunity for many of the region’s top elected officials to reflect on the importance of the Raleigh to Richmond Innovating Rail Program.

Governor Roy Cooper said passenger rail has been setting new records in North Carolina and this investment by the Biden administration would help continue that trend.

“This is giving people what they want,” explained Cooper. “North Carolina has become an epicenter of clean energy, and public transportation is an important part of that. People are ready for passenger rail to get them from one place to the next.”

Former Congressman David Price, who chaired the House Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, said the vision for this high-speed route could be traced back to the 1990s when then-Governor Jim Hunt and others instituted Amtrak service between Charlotte and Raleigh.

For years, the state made incremental progress to improve travel times. In the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, North Carolina received half a billion dollars that was invested in bringing Raleigh to Charlotte up to speed.

“The result, you see it today, five trains each way, each day. Tell me, why would anyone drive to Charlotte?” asked Price rhetorically. “Well, this made Raleigh to Richmond, our next obvious target.”

Congresswoman Deborah Ross (NC-02) agreed the project was long overdue, recalling the legislature studying the merit of passenger rail service more than 20 years ago.

“This rail line is exactly the kind of investment we envision when we say North Carolina needs 21st century transportation options,” said Rep. Ross. “Once it’s completed, it will better link North Carolina with the rest of the region, creating employment opportunities, fostering economic growth, and connecting residents and visitors to the endless opportunities that our great state offers.”

Ross noted that Senator Thom Tillis and former Senator Richard Burr also deserved credit in bringing this federal funding home. Only 19 Republican senators voted for the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law in 2021.

The NCDOT will also receive $3.5 million in Corridor Identification and Development program grants to begin the planning process for passenger services on several rail corridors like Salisbury and Asheville.

Once the massive S-Line project is complete, passengers using the rail service will save over an hour of travel time, making a rail trip from Raleigh to Washington D.C. “car-competitive.”

“Even if you don’t use the train, you’re going to be better off because of all the people who do,” said Sec. Buttigieg. “The congestion that is reduced when that happens, it is a true example of a win-win.”

Source: NCDOT map

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