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North Carolina Intercity Rail Transit


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Most of the active work on this Southeast high speed rail line stopped in 2001 when the Bush administration cut 99% of the funding towards high speed rail development which pretty much killed all of the HS projects in the USA. If the Observer said that study was released by the federal government, it got it wrong. It was performed and released by the 4 state DOTs involved in this project. I would suggest a read of the Southeast High Speed Rail project page.

I will summarize some of what has been discussed in that topic over the years here.

Even though federal funding disappeared, the NCDOT and the VADOT continued to work on the Charlotte to Washington DC route as a state funded venture because there is already a NC state funded passenger railroad operating on this route, and it is actually profitable. High speed in this case means getting the train up to a 110 mph. (currently limited to around 75 with many parts in the 45mph range) This will bring this route back up standards of about 80 years ago. To North Carolina's credit, it actually owns a good deal of the ROW as it has been preserving (thoughtfully) ROW by buying up abandoned tracks for more than a decade.

The page for the North Carolina Rail Road is at ByTrain.org. North Carolina is one of only 3 states that funds it's own railroad. It shows the current routes and schedules and future plans including high speed and conventional rail. I believe this distinction was also lost on the Observer.

On the Charlotte to Atlanta route, I would not expect to see it anytime in the next 25 years unless there are fundamental changes in how this country funds transit. The model that is being used for the NC to Richmond work, will not work for NC to Atlanta, because it would require a commitment and funding from GA and SC. Both of these governments are firmly in the hands of the GOP which simply won't consider spending anything on train transit. Their current philosophy is to leave transit development to the private sector. Rich people can fly, middle class can drive, and poor can ride the bus.

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Amtrak ridership numbers for fiscal year 2019 are out.  The Carolinian is down 4.7% to 244,779.  The Piedmont is up 28.1% at 214,218.  The Piedmont saw the second highest growth on all of Amtrak's rou

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I would so like to see this happen.. I like going to ATL, but absolutely detest the traffic. Alas, I'll be a senior in the nursing home by the time this comes to fruition.

Yeah, unfortunately the build-out would take a long time for many of us to see it's use, but I'm all for it. I have given up the car recently and enjoy the ride to Durham quite often to visit my sister who lives there. I've been looking for alternatives to get to Atlanta without hitching a ride with a friend, but that departure and arrival time by train is a killer.

While those trains may be full passing through, I can't see a lot of travelers getting on in Charlotte heading in that direction, but I could be wrong. I do like the idea of adding additional lines departing at reasonable times between here and Atlanta, I think they would get a lot of use. If there was even just a daily early morning and mid-afternoon departure arriving around noon and dinnertime in Atlanta, and vice versa in the other direction, I suspect ridership would be fairly high, and likely very high whenever gas prices shoot up again.

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I pretty much agree with Monsoons' comments. GA and SC have little interest in rail, and have demonstrated as such through almost zero financial commitment. We should be thankful to have a small, but committed group of folks here in NC who have constantly pushed for more incremental rail investments over the past 15-20 years (thru wild fluctations in gas prices and changes in public policies). As a result, we may have a chance for a real high speed rail project from CLT to DC by the middle of the next decade.

The best chance for greater investments in rail service to ATL or within NC (Asheville & Wilmington) is thru the successful implentation of the CLT to DC SEHSR project, currently under a planning & engineering study. Demonstrating success in creating a travel market there will show policy makers in E/W NC, SC, and GA that rail can and should be a viable investment as a complement to highways and air travel. So if you want improved rail investments to ATL, support the line to DC first.

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From what I can tell, SCDOT is interested, but not when it comes to committing funds with limited or no federal funding/matching. The SEHSR feasibility study will help move the issue along within SCDOT and Georgia DOT too. If Obama decides to fund transportation projects like this one, and congress actually supports it, then we should be back in business.

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IMO, unless something truly high-speed is offered from CLT to ATL, people are going to choose to drive instead. This is a fairly short distance that is easily drivable. I'm not sure many will be willing to sacrifice the independence of having their own transportation, particularly if it isn't going to get you to the destination city any faster.

I'm of the opinion that we should focus on high-speed rail and not settle for whatever we can get our hands on in the short-term. If we're going to do this then let's do it right the first time.

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IMO, unless something truly high-speed is offered from CLT to ATL, people are going to choose to drive instead. This is a fairly short distance that is easily drivable. I'm not sure many will be willing to sacrifice the independence of having their own transportation, particularly if it isn't going to get you to the destination city any faster.

I'm of the opinion that we should focus on high-speed rail and not settle for whatever we can get our hands on in the short-term. If we're going to do this then let's do it right the first time.

But Neo, it works from CLT to RDU, why would it not be the same for CLT-ATL? If anything, I could see ATL being even more successful since once in the city, you can get to a decent number of places via MARTA.
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IMO, unless something truly high-speed is offered from CLT to ATL, people are going to choose to drive instead. This is a fairly short distance that is easily drivable. I'm not sure many will be willing to sacrifice the independence of having their own transportation, particularly if it isn't going to get you to the destination city any faster.

If the option was easily available now to ride a train to ATL, have a decent schedule, and take relatively the same amount of time as the car (4.5-5 hours from my house depending on Charlotte/ATL traffic), I would take the train on certain occasions. If a high speed rail option was available, the only time I would entertain a car trip to ATL is if I was there for a long period of time and was goig to be doing some power shopping! Marta is fairly easy to use, but the bus schedules could be better.. you can be left standing at some stops for quite a while waiting for a transfer.

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But Neo, it works from CLT to RDU, why would it not be the same for CLT-ATL? If anything, I could see ATL being even more successful since once in the city, you can get to a decent number of places via MARTA.

How can you say high speed rail between CLT and RDU works when it hasn't even been implemented yet? :huh:

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How can you say high speed rail between CLT and RDU works when it hasn't even been implemented yet? :huh:
Forgive my syntax issues. Jeez. I was simply saying that the NC RR has proved that people will use rail transit and it can be successful. Given that the slow-speed (my term to avoid confusion) Raleigh-Greensboro-Charlotte service does so well, why would high speed Charlotte-Greenville-Atlanta be less successful?

I hope that's clearer.

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why would high speed Charlotte-Greenville-Atlanta be less successful?

Because you would need the citizens of GA and SC to stop sending neanderthals to their state legislatures who wouldn't invest in rail if their lives depended on it. Unfortunately, these types of politicians are pretty popular south of the NC border. The future of NC rail, high-speed, medium-speed, or any other lies within NC borders and to the north. Any energy spent on rail going in any other direction (SC,TN,GA) is a complete waste of time.

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Because you would need the citizens of GA and SC to stop sending neanderthals to their state legislatures who wouldn't invest in rail if their lives depended on it. Unfortunately, these types of politicians are pretty popular south of the NC border. The future of NC rail, high-speed, medium-speed, or any other lies within NC borders and to the north. Any energy spent on rail going in any other direction (SC,TN,GA) is a complete waste of time.
But my question has nothing to do with politics. I'm asking that IF it was built, why would it not be successful?
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From what I can tell, SCDOT is interested, but not when it comes to committing funds with limited or no federal funding/matching. The SEHSR feasibility study will help move the issue along within SCDOT and Georgia DOT too. If Obama decides to fund transportation projects like this one, and congress actually supports it, then we should be back in business.

What people are willing to pay to get something is an excellent indicator of their level of interest. SC has had the opportunity for several years to work with NS to improve the rail line between Columbia and Charlotte. Doing so would have surely been an easy way to entice the Piedmont to come further south instead of sitting idle for 8 hours each day before returning to Raleigh. They did not.

NC has funded a lot of stuff out if its own pocket, and thus has better service and is far better positioned to go to the next level of rail service.

But my question has nothing to do with politics. I'm asking that IF it was built, why would it not be successful?

Okay, that's fair. I think rail service between ATL and CLT could have 60-80% of the success the Piedmont has in the CLT-RGH corridor, even if it was only upgraded to mostly 79 mph running. The challenge for higher levels of success is that the metropolitan population in the cities and towns distributed between ATL and CLT is much smaller than the population distributed between CLT and RGH. Another factor is that I believe the public transportation grid in the in-between towns is weaker.

Now let's say you go to 110 mph between CLT and ATL. Now you'll do a little better still because you'll pick up business travelers who may drive to the stations and journey to the endpoints.

What about 200 mph electric trains? Not going to happen without prerequisites. You would never electrify (incredible capital costs) the CLT to ATL segment in isolation from the CLT-RGH-WAS piece because you could not route a through service to Washington, Richmond, or Raleigh.

All in all, better train service between Atlanta and Charlotte faces zero insurmountable technical hurdles. I believe that from a market-based view, judging by the size of the cities in between the endpoints, 79 mph service with high on-time performance is probably the most cost-effective goal to pursue. NC mostly has this now on the Piedmont and the service attracts plenty of people and is close to making money above the rails. 90 mph service may also be possible with positive train control coming online in 2015.

That said, the primary obstacle to better rail service between these two cities is undoubtedly the political unwillingness to fund these rail improvements. Advocates of ATL-CLT service improvements should focus their energy on encouraging pro-rail state legislators to speak up, and those who are ambivalent to changing their position to be pro-rail.

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Transitman, you make some great points.

Let's note that EVERY high-frequency/higher-speed passenger rail corridor in the US today has reached its level of service by incremental improvements. The US has not built a high-speed line from scratch, unlike Europe, and shows no sign of ever doing so.

I wouldn't classify people in SC and GA legislatures as "Neanderthals"; both states are just very conservative and are loathe to spend money on ANYTHING; SC, for example, spends less on its roads than most other states do, and let's recall the Charlotte Observer article from 2007 showing that Republicans were more likely than Democrats to vote in favor of keeping the transit tax, so I don't see it as a GOP/Dem issue, either.

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^Very nice post as I think it sums up the situation well. I had no idea they had approached SC about running The Piedmont to Columbia, but it makes perfect sense as you point out. Given that NC has already paid for the equipment, it would not see to be such a burden on SC to support this service. It's a shame that this is a lost opportunity as I know several people in SC that would like to travel more but can't because flying is just too expensive and they don't like to drive.

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NC has funded a lot of stuff out if its own pocket, and thus has better service and is far better positioned to go to the next level of rail service.

SC also doesn't throw money around like NC does. To that end, North Carolina has almost $7 billion in debt. South Carolina has $0. The fiscally conservative nature of SC is to blame, not a lack of vision or desire. SCDOT is admittedly has not been as forward thinking as NCDOT when it comes to rail, and I am not suggesting that they are. However, they have to manage the 4th largest state-maintained road network in America. They do this in a state with half the population and financial resources of NC (which has the largest state-maintained road network) on top of being a fiscally conservative state.

To address your concerns about South Carolina, I offer the following:

  • SCDOT operates a rail right-of-way preservation program that buys up rail for future service.
  • SCDOT is conducting a passenger rail feasibility study for the entire state.
  • SCDOT is supportive of OTHER multimodal ideals (bike/ped) and is recognized as such at the national level.

Also keep in mind that South Carolina's big 3 urban areas (GSP, Columbia, Charleston) are not as large as North Carolina's big 3 (Charlotte, Triad, RDU). The cities cannot sustain the same level of activity as North Carolina.

Obviously people are entitled to their opinions, but I find it irritating when they are broad sweeping statements based largely on ignorance and stereotypes.

Pretty much everyone I know in SC has said that if there were a train to Charleston, Charlotte, Atlanta, Columbia, etc, that they would take it. If I had a train from Charlotte to Charleston and from Charlotte to Spartanburg I would probably VERY seriously consider getting rid of my car.

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SC also doesn't throw money around like NC does. To that end, North Carolina has almost $7 billion in debt. South Carolina has $0. The fiscally conservative nature of SC is to blame, not a lack of vision or desire.

I don't think that is correct. I am pretty sure that both states have balanced budget requirements in their constitutions. Both states sell state bonds for capital projects. Bonds = debt. South Carolina currently has a line item in its budget for debt servicing so there is outstanding debt held by the state. Also in 2009 SC projects that it will spend about 10% more than it takes in vs about 3.5% for NC.

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I wouldn't classify people in SC and GA legislatures as "Neanderthals"; both states are just very conservative and are loathe to spend money on ANYTHING;

I'm sorry, we'll have to agree to disagree. Maybe my word choice was overly harsh, and if so, I apologize for being so-- but the line above is not only true, but is also primary evidence of the backwardness of those legislatures. In most parts of life, you get what you pay for. NC pays for better than average rail service, and gets it. SC doesn't, and has nothing to show for it.

It's not a matter of spending hundreds of millions of dollars per year, either. SC could make modest investments, of probably $10 million a year for 10 years, and greatly improve the reliability and or speed of passenger service to Columbia or Savannah (but not both) while enhancing capacity for freight rail as well. Both represent infrastructure investments that spur economic activity and set the table for future growth while supporting cleaner air.

Is it about being a small state? No. Vermont spends plenty of money on intercity rail, though that funding is in question right now. So does Maine. Both of these states lack a major metro area.

In GA, a state with an economic powerhouse metro area like Atlanta, the excuses are even flimsier because they have much more money than SC. It is a matter of priorities, and when it comes to transportation priorities, with the exception of Atlanta, GA and SC are 20 to 30 years behind NC. This is not an attempt to be disparaging as much as it is diagnostic.

Also, monsoon is absolutely right on the point about debt. The states have to balance their budgets; only the federal government has the luxury to do otherwise.

Spartan, I hear your point about people wanting to ride, and I believe you. But those interests are not well represented in governance. The fact remains that the elected bodies of SC and GA broadly have little to no interest in intercity passenger rail, and they express that preference annually through their budgets.

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I don't think that is correct. I am pretty sure that both states have balanced budget requirements in their constitutions. Both states sell state bonds for capital projects. Bonds = debt. South Carolina currently has a line item in its budget for debt servicing so there is outstanding debt held by the state. Also in 2009 SC projects that it will spend about 10% more than it takes in vs about 3.5% for NC.

I can't speak to North Carolina, but I know that South Carolina has a balanced budget requirement in its constitution. It's important to keep in mind that paying debt service does not equate a budgetary deficit. Every government operates on the concept of paying debt services (which is essentially like the concept of credit: buy now, pay later). A deficit is when you can't pay your bills.

According to a press release on 8/14/08 by the SC Comptroller General, Richard Eckstrom, a budgetary surplus was used to eliminate the budgetary deficit of approximately $250 million.

In North Carolina, all I can find is this article from the Raleigh News & Observer from 9/8/08 that states the budgetary deficit in NC: $6.7 billion.

Given the general state of the national economy, I would not be surprised if South Carolina and North Carolina have to take on debt once again to make ends meet this year.

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I'm sorry, we'll have to agree to disagree. Maybe my word choice was overly harsh, and if so, I apologize for being so-- but the line above is not only true, but is also primary evidence of the backwardness of those legislatures. In most parts of life, you get what you pay for. NC pays for better than average rail service, and gets it. SC doesn't, and has nothing to show for it.

It's not a matter of spending hundreds of millions of dollars per year, either. SC could make modest investments, of probably $10 million a year for 10 years, and greatly improve the reliability and or speed of passenger service to Columbia or Savannah (but not both) while enhancing capacity for freight rail as well. Both represent infrastructure investments that spur economic activity and set the table for future growth while supporting cleaner air.

Is it about being a small state? No. Vermont spends plenty of money on intercity rail, though that funding is in question right now. So does Maine. Both of these states lack a major metro area.

In GA, a state with an economic powerhouse metro area like Atlanta, the excuses are even flimsier because they have much more money than SC. It is a matter of priorities, and when it comes to transportation priorities, with the exception of Atlanta, GA and SC are 20 to 30 years behind NC. This is not an attempt to be disparaging as much as it is diagnostic.

Also, monsoon is absolutely right on the point about debt. The states have to balance their budgets; only the federal government has the luxury to do otherwise.

Spartan, I hear your point about people wanting to ride, and I believe you. But those interests are not well represented in governance. The fact remains that the elected bodies of SC and GA broadly have little to no interest in intercity passenger rail, and they express that preference annually through their budgets.

You're comparing New England to South Carolina. These are not a fair comparison at all. Vermont is one of the most liberal states in the union.

Also, I agree that SC does not have the same level of interest in intercity rail as NC. My point is that that there is, in fact, interest in SC even if its not as outwardly visibly as it is in NC.

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.,....

According to a press release on 8/14/08 by the SC Comptroller General, Richard Eckstrom, a budgetary surplus was used to eliminate the budgetary deficit of approximately $250 million.

In North Carolina, all I can find is this article from the Raleigh News & Observer from 9/8/08 that states the budgetary deficit in NC: $6.7 billion....

Maybe you didn't read what I posted as you are not comparing the same thing. The article about SC is about yearly spending vs income. It is not about South Carolina debt. The article about NC is about the debt it has and is not about spending vs income. Apples and oranges. I would recommend that you get the 2008 budget for each state and look at the numbers yourself rather than depending upon two unrelated newspaper rags.

Again, both states have balanced budget requirements in their constitution. They have to balance their budget each year as they have no other way to close the books. Unlike the federal government, they don't print money so they can't run budget deficits. Both states do borrow money in the form of bonds and both states have outstanding debt because of it. You claim that SC is more fiscally conservative than NC has no merit based on what you provided. I would also argue that a direct comparison is difficult because responsibilities for different items, are handled differently in each state.

Hence your argument that SC does not invest in rail because it is more financially conservative is not valid. North Carolina has decided to make rail transit a part of its 25 year transit plan that has been adopted by the NCDOT and state government. Now that it has that plan it has the challenge to find ways to fund it. This is much different approach than in SC where there is no intent to seriously consider it. I do think that if more forward thinking politicians had been elected in SC, it would be a no brainier for that state to work with NC and Va to take advantage of the train systems they have already invested in. Va saw the advantage of this when it joined NC on the HSR project. Adding passenger service from Charlotte to Columbia is a no-brainer IMO as, as mentioned above, The Piedmont sits idle in Charlotte for 8 hours each day before it returns to Raleigh.

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^Very nice post as I think it sums up the situation well. I had no idea they had approached SC about running The Piedmont to Columbia, but it makes perfect sense as you point out. Given that NC has already paid for the equipment, it would not see to be such a burden on SC to support this service. It's a shame that this is a lost opportunity as I know several people in SC that would like to travel more but can't because flying is just too expensive and they don't like to drive.

I think the Carolina Association for Passenger Trains (joint NC/SC group) had raised the issue as a thoughtful way to get better equipment utilization of the Piedmont while NC did not have the track capacity for midday trains. My sense is that if SCDOT was interested and could have funded some track improvements south of CLT, NCDOT would have given this very serious consideration.

Unfortunately for SC, that window has now closed. NCDOT has improved the NCRR to the point where another Piedmont service will start running in the middle of the day sometime in summer/fall 2009. You can be sure that this midday train will be a big boost to the productivity of the equipment, and may even become a profitable run. If the latter happens, this will accelerate the business case for the addition of another roundtrip by the Piedmont, maybe in 2-3 years' time.

With four trains between Raleigh and Charlotte daily (3 Piedmont roundtrips, 1 Carolinian roundtrip) service in this corridor would be starting to mimic the Downeaster in New England!

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Maybe you didn't read what I posted as you are not comparing the same thing. The article about SC is about yearly spending vs income. It is not about South Carolina debt. The article about NC is about the debt it has and is not about spending vs income. Apples and oranges. I would recommend that you get the 2008 budget for each state and look at the numbers yourself rather than depending upon two unrelated newspaper rags.

Again, both states have balanced budget requirements in their constitution. They have to balance their budget each year as they have no other way to close the books. Unlike the federal government, they don't print money so they can't run budget deficits. Both states do borrow money in the form of bonds and both states have outstanding debt because of it. You claim that SC is more fiscally conservative than NC has no merit based on what you provided. I would also argue that a direct comparison is difficult because responsibilities for different items, are handled differently in each state.

Hence your argument that SC does not invest in rail because it is more financially conservative is not valid. North Carolina has decided to make rail transit a part of its 25 year transit plan that has been adopted by the NCDOT and state government. Now that it has that plan it has the challenge to find ways to fund it. This is much different approach than in SC where there is no intent to seriously consider it. I do think that if more forward thinking politicians had been elected in SC, it would be a no brainier for that state to work with NC and Va to take advantage of the train systems they have already invested in. Va saw the advantage of this when it joined NC on the HSR project. Adding passenger service from Charlotte to Columbia is a no-brainer IMO as, as mentioned above, The Piedmont sits idle in Charlotte for 8 hours each day before it returns to Raleigh.

Thats cool. I'm not going to debate the minutiae of state budgeting with you since that issue is well off topic. I know that I am right, and if you want to provide sources to cite the opposite then I will recant my statement.

The fact that SC has the means to pay its debt obligations without going into a budgetary deficit is relevant because it illustrates my point of SC being a fiscally conservative state. The General Assembly cuts government to make ends meet rather then go into debt to maintain government. To than end, South Carolina has less population and less resources to deal with a similarly large transportation network as compared to North Carolina and Georgia. SC simply has not had the financial resources to develop rail service. Being a financially conservative state, rail is viewed as a luxury, not a necessity, by some. You can fault the lack of vision by SC politicians, but the problem is not solely theirs.

So to restate my point from before, SC is starting to change its mindset. More and more people want to see rail. Many studies and plans are underway in SCDOT and other agencies and organizations that support passenger rail in South Carolina. I am glad to discuss these with anyone interested, but I don't want to derail this thread about North Carolina's rail issues/efforts anymore than I already have. I highly recommend that those who are interested check out the following threads to updates on South Carolina's passenger rail efforts:

South Carolina High Speed Rail [sEHSR]

SC Passenger Railways [Non-SEHSR]

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South Carolina is a largely car-centric, rural state run by very conservative people. For example, see the December 31 New York Times article, "South Carolina Governor Relents on Jobless Funds"; despite the state having the third-highest unemployment rate, for weeks the governor refused to apply for a loan to ensure that the entity that doled out unemployment benefit checks would have enough funds to keep paying unemployment benefits, but he finally gave in. A state run by people like that is not going to be one that is jumping to spend money on passenger trains.

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