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North Carolina Intercity Rail Transit

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The projects being considered for the 2018-2027 STIP includes purchasing "5 new bi-level passenger cars for future Piedmont service between Raleigh and Charlotte" (R150274). Have bi-level cars been mentioned before? I don't recall reading anything about them before.

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Puzzling article on the NCRR at the News and Record. The article is ostensibly about the Art Pope generated controversy about the NCRR investing in the Randolph County mega site land (which is not on the NCRR but does connect to it). The puzzling aspect of the article is the valuation they provide for the "tracks, buildings, land and bridges" of the Railroad are worth $167 million. This is an incompetent appraisal using any metric, particularly considering the 1/2 billion dollars the federal government put into double tracking Charlotte to Greensboro.

Is Art trying to restart discussions about selling the NCRR at a fire sale price?

http://www.greensboro.com/news/local_news/ties-that-bind-after-megasite-deal-n-c-railroad-finds/article_fb19032d-8cf2-55a2-a0a4-36851b3936f1.html

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Virginia should hear in the next few days about a federal grant to "unclog I-95" which has a significant rail component. Amount the projects that the grant would fund would be initial work on the Long Bridge over the Potomac (a major bottle neck) plus money for the state of VA to purchase the S-Line ROW from the state line to Richmond. Both these items (and many others) will mean substantially improved rail access to the NEC from North Carolina if funded.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/dr-gridlock/wp/2016/06/29/mcauliffe-hoping-to-lock-in-federal-grant-for-big-road-rail-projects/

(hat tip to Virginia for having the insight to package rail improvements with a highway grant request!)

edit: VA did recieve the grant so work on the Virginia portion of SEHSRish will commence shortly. This work will make NC projects (particularly upgrading the S line North of Raleigh) much more feasible.

http://www.progressiverailroading.com/federal_legislation_regulation/news/Rail-projects-in-[email protected]bellsouth.net&utm_medium=email&utm_source=prdailynews&utm_campaign=prdailynews07/06/2016

 

Edited by kermit

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Bad news for the possibility of Asheville service. Trains Magazine has reported that Norfolk Southern has downgraded their tracks from Salisbury to Knoxville (via Asheville) from Class 3 (40 mph for freight and 60 for passenger) down to Class 2 (25mph for freight and 30mph for passenger).

This has a couple of obvious implications for possible future passenger rail. First, the cost of an Asheville train has just increased significantly since it will be incumbent upon the operator (NCDOT most likely) to pay to have the track restored to Class 3 status (the minimum speed necessary for useful passenger service). Second, this is likely to presage a sale of the tracks to a shortline operator. While such a sale might not be a problem for pax service by itself, it is unlkely a shortline would be able or willing to contribute to any track class upgrades.  

http://cs.trains.com/trn/b/staff/archive/2016/07/15/how-about-a-new-idea-for-two-class-i-routes-in-north-carolina.aspx

File under fantasyland: Should the Salisbury-Asheville tracks move towards abandonment (far in the future) the state would then own all of the row necessary for true HSR Trans-Carolina passenger rail (Morehead City - Raleigh - Greensboro - Charlotte plus the Salisbury-Asheville spur. Also close to an all state owned corridor from Goldsboro to WIlmington). While this would be epic (and historically unprecedented) for North Carolina, multiple $billions would need to fall from the sky.

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Truth is that mountain routes through WNC like the Clinchfield, the NS Andrews Geyser Loops, and Saluda Grade, have lost much of their raison d'etre in the modern freight business. Coal traffic is declining and there's no reason to send hot intermodals through the gauntlet of the Blue Ridge Mountains, where trains have to be short and the operating rules are special and extra complicated.

If NCDOT is interested, they may have the opportunity to buy the line from Old Fort to Asheville outright before too long. But the sad truth is there, for all the history of the Andrews Geyser Loops, they are not very practical for freight or for passenger service, so maybe even passenger service won't make sense. I suspect the line will not soon be shut down outright, but demotion like this is likely to continue.

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The Business Journals have a survey asking if "you would be willing to commute from Charlotte to Raleigh by rail." There are not a ton of responses, but the survey is running 77% positive at the moment. Not scientific, yadayada, but I am impressed with the enthusiasm.

I have long been a proponent of transforming the corridor into a single labor market, rail is certainly the only way to do it.

http://www.bizjournals.com/charlotte/pulse/poll/would-you-commute-by-rail-from-charlotte-to-raleigh/20253222

 

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On 6/29/2016 at 4:34 PM, kermit said:

Virginia should hear in the next few days about a federal grant to "unclog I-95" which has a significant rail component. Amount the projects that the grant would fund would be initial work on the Long Bridge over the Potomac (a major bottle neck) plus money for the state of VA to purchase the S-Line ROW from the state line to Richmond. Both these items (and many others) will mean substantially improved rail access to the NEC from North Carolina if funded.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/dr-gridlock/wp/2016/06/29/mcauliffe-hoping-to-lock-in-federal-grant-for-big-road-rail-projects/

(hat tip to Virginia for having the insight to package rail improvements with a highway grant request!)

edit: VA did recieve the grant so work on the Virginia portion of SEHSRish will commence shortly. This work will make NC projects (particularly upgrading the S line North of Raleigh) much more feasible.

http://www.progressiverailroading.com/federal_legislation_regulation/news/Rail-projects-in-[email protected]bellsouth.net&utm_medium=email&utm_source=prdailynews&utm_campaign=prdailynews07/06/2016

 

 

That's certainly good news, especially that Virginia is still willing to invest in SEHSR. I'd say North Carolina has more to gain from the S-Line rebuild than Virginia does.

 

On 7/20/2016 at 10:56 AM, kermit said:

Bad news for the possibility of Asheville service. Trains Magazine has reported that Norfolk Southern has downgraded their tracks from Salisbury to Knoxville (via Asheville) from Class 3 (40 mph for freight and 60 for passenger) down to Class 2 (25mph for freight and 30mph for passenger).

This has a couple of obvious implications for possible future passenger rail. First, the cost of an Asheville train has just increased significantly since it will be incumbent upon the operator (NCDOT most likely) to pay to have the track restored to Class 3 status (the minimum speed necessary for useful passenger service). Second, this is likely to presage a sale of the tracks to a shortline operator. While such a sale might not be a problem for pax service by itself, it is unlkely a shortline would be able or willing to contribute to any track class upgrades.  

http://cs.trains.com/trn/b/staff/archive/2016/07/15/how-about-a-new-idea-for-two-class-i-routes-in-north-carolina.aspx

File under fantasyland: Should the Salisbury-Asheville tracks move towards abandonment (far in the future) the state would then own all of the row necessary for true HSR Trans-Carolina passenger rail (Morehead City - Raleigh - Greensboro - Charlotte plus the Salisbury-Asheville spur. Also close to an all state owned corridor from Goldsboro to WIlmington). While this would be epic (and historically unprecedented) for North Carolina, multiple $billions would need to fall from the sky.

 

You're right, I don't think passenger rail to Asheville will be feasible without a Class I owner. I don't know that it was ever feasible. Don't forget to add in the cost of implementing PTC on a line that would otherwise not need it.


However, a shortline operator may be much more willing than Norfolk Southern to welcome the public monies that would come with adding passenger rail service on a line with declining revenue.

 

On 7/24/2016 at 3:13 PM, orulz said:

Truth is that mountain routes through WNC like the Clinchfield, the NS Andrews Geyser Loops, and Saluda Grade, have lost much of their raison d'etre in the modern freight business. Coal traffic is declining and there's no reason to send hot intermodals through the gauntlet of the Blue Ridge Mountains, where trains have to be short and the operating rules are special and extra complicated.

If NCDOT is interested, they may have the opportunity to buy the line from Old Fort to Asheville outright before too long. But the sad truth is there, for all the history of the Andrews Geyser Loops, they are not very practical for freight or for passenger service, so maybe even passenger service won't make sense. I suspect the line will not soon be shut down outright, but demotion like this is likely to continue.

 

It's not so bad that NCDOT will be acquiring the line any time soon. There is still local freight in Asheville and on the branch lines that require rail access, and that's the business NS seems to be moving away from. I suspect NS will sell the S-Line around the time the Duke coal plant in Skyland is converted to natural gas (2020) and reroute their remaining coal unit trains to Allen and Marshall via the mainline, leaving the locals to the shortline operator.

 

On 7/27/2016 at 8:40 AM, kermit said:

The Business Journals have a survey asking if "you would be willing to commute from Charlotte to Raleigh by rail." There are not a ton of responses, but the survey is running 77% positive at the moment. Not scientific, yadayada, but I am impressed with the enthusiasm.

I have long been a proponent of transforming the corridor into a single labor market, rail is certainly the only way to do it.

http://www.bizjournals.com/charlotte/pulse/poll/would-you-commute-by-rail-from-charlotte-to-raleigh/20253222

 

 

We're almost there. I think once the PIP is complete we'll see the improved performance and additional frequencies needed to get more people on the train.

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It appears that NCDOT has a federal award to purchase 5 bilevel passenger cars, presumably for Piedmont service. The cars will use the new midwest bilevel car design (which has encountered major problems in the design stage). The cars will be designed to be compatable with single level equipment and will accomodate both high and low platform level boarding.

http://www.highspeed-rail.org/Documents/305 Exec Brd minutes -11-8-16 DRAFT.doc   (see item 10)

I am surprised, I would have thought that our refurbished gear program was working very well. Perhaps issues with platform length (e.g Burlington and Cary) prevent long consists on the Piedmont?

EDIT: Thanks Orluz, that makes sense.

Edited by kermit

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It seems to me that they may be planning to have one or two such cars per consist. Perhaps the main reason is to allow AD compliant boarding at the existing 8 inch platforms that can't or won't be raised.

Sent from my LGL44VL using Tapatalk

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The US Treasury just released a report which creates cost-benefit rankings for the Top 40 'mega infrastructure projects' (road, rail and water). Much to my surprise SEHSR ranks as the 10 highest returning project in the "planning and implementation underway' category , it is expected to return 2-4 times its $4.6 billion construction cost. SEHSR ranked just one spot lower than NEC updating.  Also on the list was the Long Bridge replacement project (DC to VA over the Potomac) -- which is necessary for SEHSR to progress. It ranked 26th in the "planning underway" category with an expected ROI of 2-4 times its $575 million investment.  FWIW California HSR was the 3rd ranked project with an expected ROI of 4-7 times investment.

https://www.enotrans.org/article/treasury-study-rates-40-transpowater-megaprojects/

Overall this is surprisingly positive fiscal news for regional passenger rail.

Edited by kermit
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In a much overdue but very useful move passengers on Piedmont trains will e given a free transit pass (good for one ride plus a transfer) for their destinations. At a glance it looks to be useable on transit services available at every Piedmont stop. Passes must be requested from the conductor (according to the web page). 

The wording suggests that the passes are not available on the Carolinian but there is some vagueness.

http://www.ncbytrain.org/transit_pass/default.html

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Since Hunter Harrison is now CEO of CSX the next year or two are likely to be very interesting for NC passenger railroading. I posted in the Charlotte Long Term Transit Plan thread about implications there (tldr: lots of CSX assets are likely to be sold) but there are some bigger statewide issues that I hope NCDOT is thinking about (line discussions can be referenced from this map: https://www.ncdot.gov/download/performance/ncminmaps/railmap.pdf )

  • The still lightly used portion of the S-line shortcut from Raleigh to Norlina will almost certainly be sold, something that will (likely) make its reuse for the SEHSR shortcut cheaper and easier (ideally the state / NCRR could purchase the line but the current political environment probably precludes that)
  • The line from Hamlet to Raleigh (via Apex) seems like a probable candidate for shortlining. A new owner may be willing to accommodate Raleigh-Apex commuter rail. (This would create a very welcome increase in frequency of service between Cary and Raleigh)
  • Wilmington to Pembroke (not passenger related) seems like a potential sale as well. The port of Wilmington is never going to substantially grow (certainly not during Harrison's tenure) and if its rail connection suddenly becomes a short line (thus slowing the movement of intermodal) maritime traffic at the port may enter a death spiral.
  • Wilson to Wallace carries lots of hog feed but it seems like a likely shortline sale as well. (Making Raleigh to Wilmington service easier)
  • The Mount Holly to Terrell line (to serve the steam station) connects to a NS line that connects to its Western NC line. Should NS purchase the CSX tracks which run South of Terrell, NS could (potentially) have a north-south replacement line which could (potentially) substitute for the O-Line (their backup main).. In my fantasy world this acquisistion would allow NS to sell the O-Line to CATS for commuter service to Mt Mourne.

Interesting times.

Edited by kermit
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My "fantasy" notion for the S-line north of Raleigh would be for it to be bought by the All Aboard Florida/Brightline people who are reportedly looking to bring their business model to other corridors, possibly even outside Florida. The case for upgraded rail between NC and the northeast corridor is pretty bulletproof, there is a completed EIS already in place, Trump is big on infrastructure and is actually quite keen on higher speed rail as long as there is a private component, and NC is a very important state politically for Trump as well.

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I can't remember all the stakeholders' positions, but I wonder if this will change things with the CSX and NS grade separation in Charlotte and the future of Gateway Station? I know between CSX and ADM that the project was dead in the water, and there probably isn't any funding available for it now, but it seems unlikely that CSX is going to hold on to any assets west of Mt. Holly. Maybe a reduction in volume will deem the grade separation unnecessary?

What even happened to Gateway? I thought there was a TIGER grant to start something a couple of years ago, but I haven't seen or heard anything.

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TONS of information just posted on a legislative website this afternoon for a Wednesday morning March 22 meeting at the General Assembly:

look here: http://www.ncleg.net/gascripts/documentsites/browseDocSite.asp?nID=131&sFolderName=\2017_Session

look for March 22 Rail meeting

linked from there is a passenger rail presentation by Paul Worley

Interesting mention of potential stations at Hillsborough and Lexington (which have long been in the planning stages) but now also a mention of Harrisburg. Lots of ridership and financial details, maps, etc

 

 

 

 

Edited by staffer
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^Thanks!

"enhanced food and drink" including NC Beer!

Piedmont 4th frequency looks like early next year. 5th looks like 2019 (based on ridership forecasts given on pdf 6).

Any idea if Amtrak will actually approve the extension to New Haven? I am struggling to see why they would agree to move $4 million onto their books just for an extension already served by metro north.

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On ‎3‎/‎21‎/‎2017 at 10:22 AM, kermit said:

^Thanks!

"enhanced food and drink" including NC Beer!

Piedmont 4th frequency looks like early next year. 5th looks like 2019 (based on ridership forecasts given on pdf 6).

Any idea if Amtrak will actually approve the extension to New Haven? I am struggling to see why they would agree to move $4 million onto their books just for an extension already served by metro north.

Piedmont 3rd frequency (meaning 4 trains a day RGH-CLT counting the Carolinian) was funded by the just enacted NC budget, service start date probably around 6/1/18, timetable probably out October or November 2017

Edited by staffer
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here is the current state of the Charlotte locomotive and passenger rail car maintenance facility. Taken from Summit avenue (stub end of yard). The site will have one of the best views in Charlotte. The NCDOT project page says it will be complete in August? (Ballast has been delivered to the site (out of frame to the right)).

https://www.ncdot.gov/projects/charlotteRailMaint/

storage yard.jpg

Edited by kermit
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NCDOT unveils two 'new' locomotives for the Piedmont (rebuilt GoTransit actually). Town of Cary and City of Kannapolis. Its nice to see the ARRA funded equipment finally coming on line.

http://www.progressiverailroading.com/amtrak/news/North-Carolina-DOT-readies-[email protected]bellsouth.net&utm_medium=email&utm_source=prdailynews&utm_campaign=prdailynews8/3/2017

As an aside, it does appear that NCDOT is running all push-pull on the Piedmonts now (although I am working from a limited set of observations)

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The Tier II EIS for Richmond to DC has been released.  Cost is penciled in at $5 billion for 110mph service starting in 2025 (no funding has been identified yet but that is the optimistically assumed open year). This (along with the S-line shortcut) would get Folks in the Charlotte to Raleigh corridor to the corridor about 90 minutes faster than current service (e.g. leave Charlotte at 7am and reach DC between 2-3pm)

https://www.fra.dot.gov/Page/P0729

Edited by kermit
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Speaking of the S-Line, has there been any more discussion about reactivation? There are a couple of grade separation projects along the S-Line in Wake County funded in NCDOT's  State Transportation Improvement Program, but nothing beyond that. The News & Observer had an article a year or more back about the NCDOT Rail Division wanting to proceed with reactivating/rebuilding the line mostly as-is to expedite completing the shortcut to VA. The idea being that full implementation of high speed rail would be too costly at this time and incremental improvements could be made in the future to straighten curves and grade separate road crossings. There has also been speculation about what will happen to the active section of the S-Line now that CSX is under new management.

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1 hour ago, cowboy_wilhelm said:

Speaking of the S-Line, has there been any more discussion about reactivation? There are a couple of grade separation projects along the S-Line in Wake County funded in NCDOT's  State Transportation Improvement Program, but nothing beyond that. The News & Observer had an article a year or more back about the NCDOT Rail Division wanting to proceed with reactivating/rebuilding the line mostly as-is to expedite completing the shortcut to VA. The idea being that full implementation of high speed rail would be too costly at this time and incremental improvements could be made in the future to straighten curves and grade separate road crossings. There has also been speculation about what will happen to the active section of the S-Line now that CSX is under new management.

I have not heard any recent discussion about re activation (but that does not mean that there hasn't been any). AFAIK the project is ready to move forward into engineering but is waiting on an funding source. While no funding source has been identified (it feels like NCDOT has not been working hard on this) I suspect a different set of folks in DC might result in some pools of money for projects like this. I would think that CMAQ funds from the feds would also be an option (the Downeaster in Maine uses them) but I am just a rail nerd who does not know the specifics.

The other hold-up is that S-line re activation does not make much sense before necessary improvements in VA are done. Things like a new bridge over the Potomac, the ACCRA yard bypass 2.0 in Richmond and the rebuilding of tracks on the South side of Richmond Main Street station all need to happen before we can add new trains from Raleigh north. The good news is VDOT has been very proactive funding rail improvements so (hopefully) those projects can move relatively quickly.

The 'new' CSX is also a wild card, but I don't think anyone (including Hunter Harrison) has any idea what will happen to the railroad over the next year.

Edited by kermit

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I stumbled across some unexpected 'official' discussion of starting passenger service in Western NC (but not the most logical Piedmont to Asheville route). The Waynesville (NC) 'paper' reported this morning on a regional economic development meeting which focused on rail development. It sounds like there was some discussion of a general desire for pax service on the Bryson City - Waynesville - Canton to Asheville route (most of which is now owned by a shortline). The article is not clear but I suspect that there is concern about the continued viability of the line for freight (the paper mill in Canton has been flirting with death for more than a decade) and some hope of preserving it with expanded tourist trains as well as commuter-like service.

While the Asheville commuter service certainly should be filed in the 'never gonna happen' folder, that rail discussion prompted the realization that Amtrak connecting bus service from Greenville SC to Hendersonville, Asheville and Waynesville is a realistic possibility -- although no one seemed to realize the unfortunate schedule that would be required on such service (more reason for a daytime Atlanta-NC train).

http://www.themountaineer.com/news/conf ... user-share

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I'm pretty sure I've mentioned it before on this forum, but I keep hoping that Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina will get on board with a shortened, daytime service of the Crescent between Atlanta and Washington. Depart ATL or DC at 7:00 AM, arrive in CLT around lunch northbound and 2:00 PM southbound, then arrive at the final destination between 8:30 and 9:00 PM.  It would also add another frequency to the Virginia service with some morning and late afternoon alternatives for southbound and northbound, respectively. Connecting bus service from Greenville (9:49 AM NB, 5:14 PM SB) to the North Carolina mountains would also become feasible.

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