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North Carolina Intercity Rail Transit

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On 4/24/2019 at 10:57 AM, tozmervo said:

As much as I want true high speed rail networks here, I do not want to achieve that goal using China's methods, most notably the ability to just take whatever land you need. We shouldn't kid ourselves about the unfortunate ways China can achieve this kind of system. 

I couldn't agree more. That said, they did something. We've done nothing. What passes for high speed in the US is a sad joke. Other countries manage this without making it a land grab. We as a country don't have the fortitude to invest the money we need to make our infrastucture worthy. Instead we see it as nothing more than a sunk cost. We squandered the post-war investemts made by our grandparents.

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Building off the conversation in this thread and others, I want to ask - what do you see in the medium- and long-term future for rail service in NC? In the short term, the Piedmont Improvement Project is just about finished. I have not seen this spelled out, but I assume that the promised fifth frequency of the Piedmont is contingent on the completion of the new platform and track work at Charlotte Gateway Station. But once that is in place, then what? SEHSR is still stuck in future limbo - Long Bridge expansion in DC seems to be a prerequisite, and it could be years before that project is in service.

Personally, I think now is the time to begin some truly ambitious long-range planning for expanded rail service within the state. NC has urbanized tremendously in my lifetime, and that trend seems destined to continue and accelerate in the future.  If highway-centric transportation policy continues to hold, the Piedmont region could turn into a sprawling, traffic-choked nightmare - like a 180-mile-long Atlanta. But, I don't think it's too late to choose a different path. Our urban geography, with a large percentage of the state's population along a single linear corridor, sets up well for succesful rail service. I-40 and I-85 can't be widened indefinitely, so I think it is absolutely necessary to invest in frequent, high-capacity rail service to meet the travel demand along that corridor in the future.

In the medium term, I would love to see Brightline-style higher speed service between Raleigh and Charlotte. Punctual, reliable, travel time roughly 2:45 end-to-end, with departures at least once an hour throughout the day, maybe 16-20 trains each way per day. I think a service like this would be a very competitive alternative to driving and would make a real impact on traffic and development patterns.

In the long-term, I think the biggest priority should be securing the NCRR for primarily (if not exclusively) passenger use. If I read the lease agreement between NCRR and Norfolk Southern correctly, the current deal runs through 2029, at which point NS can renew for 15 more years. But, in 2044, the deal should be up for renegotiation. At that point in time, the line will have more value to the state as a corridor for transporting people than for freight, and the state should leverage its asset accordingly. If this were to happen, it would open the door for a whole host of improvements, such as additional regional and local service, electrification, higher speeds, and so on.

What do you envision for the future? And what steps need to happen now to make that future a reality?

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Glad to see these increases! We are taking the train to Raleigh from Charlotte in a few weekends!  Can’t wait to see the new Union Station.  Also using the new Piedmont frequency on the way back, it fills a much needed afternoon spot. 

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So, what's the next logical service for the Piedmont? Late evening train?

E.g., RAL>CLT 8:00 PM - 11:10 PM (or later?)

Could probably bump up the northbound 78 from Charlotte.  I'm assuming it's scheduled to avoid the Silver Star between Cary and Raleigh? That can be avoided at both stations now.

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Also, out of curiosity I wanted to see how high speed rail in Europe compared to a similar distance trip in the states. Paris and Marseille are about 480 miles apart and it's a 3.5 hour trip on the TGV. Raleigh to New York is roughly 500 miles and 10+ hours on Amtrak.... Paris to Lyon/Raleigh to D.C. = 280 miles. It's a 2 hour trip on the TGV.

Imagine the impact that would have on the east coast.

Edited by cowboy_wilhelm
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It has probably been discussed many pages back, but what is preventing higher speeds between Charlotte and Greensboro? Many grade crossings have been eliminated, it's double-track and Positive Train Control is (maybe?) in place. Does there have to be more signal upgrades? More track improvements? Or is it Norfolk Southern? I think it was mentioned on here that they'll never allow anything more than 90 mph on shared track.

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2 hours ago, cowboy_wilhelm said:

It has probably been discussed many pages back, but what is preventing higher speeds between Charlotte and Greensboro? Many grade crossings have been eliminated, it's double-track and Positive Train Control is (maybe?) in place. Does there have to be more signal upgrades? More track improvements? Or is it Norfolk Southern? I think it was mentioned on here that they'll never allow anything more than 90 mph on shared track.

The ARRA grant was written as an initial step towards SEHSR so engineering was done for tracks with 110 mph top speed passenger service with 86mph average speeds (mostly Class 6 track).  NCDOT (and Amtrak) is operating its service as if it is on Class 4 tracks (80mph top speeds).   My theory (I have no inside information) is that NS 1) balked at dispatching trains traveling at such disparate speeds as their freights (I think their excuse was built around the lack of a complete PTC installation); and 2) NS (who performs all of the maintenance on the NCRR) told NCDOT what the maintenance and inspection costs were going to be for Class 6 track (NCDOT has to pay the difference in maintenance for Class 6 vs Class 4) and NCDOT said no thanks, we will just run at 79mph for the moment.

We were also supposed to be at 6 (?) Piedmont's a day by now thanks to the new capacity but NS has been whiny about that as well. I think a significant part of NS's intransigence with increased frequency has been related to the Charlotte station situation (a passenger consist on the platform blocks one track on their main). 

I don't now how much of this has been NS being a bad tenant on the NCRR versus how effectively NCDOT negotiated all this when putting the grant proposal together (versus delayed PTC). The NCRR lease is pretty clear that NCRR can operate as many passenger trains per day as it wants to, provided that they don't interfere with NS movements. Since track capacity from Greensboro to Charlotte was basically doubled by the ARRA I don't think NS has much of a legit complaint. Unfortunately NCDOT has been unwilling to push NS to live up to the terms of its lease. To be fair NCDOT has been slow to install PTC equipment on their consists (the recieved a grant for the equipment back at the first of this year) and I don't believe that NS has made much progress on their equipment either (although AFAIK landside PTC has been fully installed along the NCRR).

TLDR: Both NCDOT and NS have been unwilling to use the full value of our $1/2 billion rail upgrades.

Edited by kermit
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On 7/21/2019 at 12:43 PM, kermit said:

The ARRA grant was written as an initial step towards SEHSR so engineering was done for tracks with 110 mph top speed passenger service with 86mph average speeds (mostly Class 6 track).  NCDOT (and Amtrak) is operating its service as if it is on Class 4 tracks (80mph top speeds).   My theory (I have no inside information) is that NS 1) balked at dispatching trains traveling at such disparate speeds as their freights (I think their excuse was built around the lack of a complete PTC installation); and 2) NS (who performs all of the maintenance on the NCRR) told NCDOT what the maintenance and inspection costs were going to be for Class 6 track (NCDOT has to pay the difference in maintenance for Class 6 vs Class 4) and NCDOT said no thanks, we will just run at 79mph for the moment.

We were also supposed to be at 6 (?) Piedmont's a day by now thanks to the new capacity but NS has been whiny about that as well. I think a significant part of NS's intransigence with increased frequency has been related to the Charlotte station situation (a passenger consist on the platform blocks one track on their main). 

I don't now how much of this has been NS being a bad tenant on the NCRR versus how effectively NCDOT negotiated all this when putting the grant proposal together (versus delayed PTC). The NCRR lease is pretty clear that NCRR can operate as many passenger trains per day as it wants to, provided that they don't interfere with NS movements. Since track capacity from Greensboro to Charlotte was basically doubled by the ARRA I don't think NS has much of a legit complaint. Unfortunately NCDOT has been unwilling to push NS to live up to the terms of its lease. To be fair NCDOT has been slow to install PTC equipment on their consists (the recieved a grant for the equipment back at the first of this year) and I don't believe that NS has made much progress on their equipment either (although AFAIK landside PTC has been fully installed along the NCRR).

TLDR: Both NCDOT and NS have been unwilling to use the full value of our $1/2 billion rail upgrades.

I was wondering about this part. Is it really worth the cost for maybe 5-10 minutes saved? On the other hand, would the marketing behind 90-110 mph service! spur increased ridership and demand for more service?

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I am hijacking this from the Charlotte Gateway Station thread (thanks KJHburg!). This surprised me, but it seems like a clear first sign that commuter rail CLT-SAL is moving forward.

1 hour ago, KJHburg said:

Not sure if this right place but land is being secured for the new Harrisburg Amtrak station.

https://harrisburgnc.org/CivicAlerts.aspx

Edited by kermit
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2 hours ago, kermit said:

I am hijacking this from the Charlotte Gateway Station thread (thanks KJHburg!). This surprised me, but it seems like a clear first sign that commuter rail CLT-SAL is moving forward.

Would love to see regional rail happen along the NCRR in Charlotte, the Triad, and the Triangle.

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Also, regarding the new Harrisburg station, I am a little surprised at the location that was selected. I had expected it to be closer to 485, perhaps right near the top of the ramps from outer 485. That location would have had the potential to attract riders from the northern/eastern suburban areas for whom it would be more convenient than Gateway or Kannapolis. It also could have allowed for a short-ish extension of the Blue Line so Amtrak riders could transfer directly (useful for people bound to/from UNCC). The proposed location is good for a regional rail stop, but I think the intercity station would have been better at 485.

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1 hour ago, jthomas said:

Also, regarding the new Harrisburg station, I am a little surprised at the location that was selected. I had expected it to be closer to 485, perhaps right near the top of the ramps from outer 485. That location would have had the potential to attract riders from the northern/eastern suburban areas for whom it would be more convenient than Gateway or Kannapolis. It also could have allowed for a short-ish extension of the Blue Line so Amtrak riders could transfer directly (useful for people bound to/from UNCC). The proposed location is good for a regional rail stop, but I think the intercity station would have been better at 485.

I do agree that a 485 / UNCC station would have made a very nice suburban station with plenty of parking (something Gateway won't have). It would have been our equivalent to the Cary station.  There has been talk of putting a commuter rail station in the area, unfortunately CATS has not considered this very logical blue line extension (their eyes are on extensions along US 29 to the CMS).

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Big strategy shift at NCDOT rail division. It appears they landed a $77 million fed grant to update their coach fleet

https://railroads.dot.gov/newsroom/us-transportation-secretary-elaine-l-chao-announces-272-million-‘state-good-repair’-program

They will use the money to buy 13 new coaches which will be used for 4 Piedmont frequencies (I am guessing 5 coaches per train, two protects in Raleigh and one in Charlotte). No mention of how they will handle baggage and lounge service. Based on past  plans to buy 4(?) of the new Midwest gear bilevel cars (the cars never got out of the design phase), I would bet NCDOT plans to purchase the Siemans single level cars which replaced the Bilevels. The grant announcement also mentions expanding the (still unused) Charlotte equipment service yard (probably the Phase 3 plans for the project). It will include a service building and additional storage tracks.

While modernization is good, I’ll really miss the fantastically refurbished heritage gear we run now. They are fantastic.

Quote

North Carolina – Piedmont Intercity Fleet and Infrastructure Investments Project
Up to $76,888,000

North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT)

The proposed project involves the acquisition of 13 new passenger coaches for use in the Piedmont service and an expansion of the Charlotte Locomotive and Railcar Maintenance Facility (LRMF). The coaches will replace the 1950s and '60s-era coaches currently in use and expand overall fleet capacity. With the new coaches, Piedmont service can increase to four daily frequencies from Charlotte to Raleigh to meet growing passenger demand. Aligning with NCDOT’s equipment overhaul and state-of-good-repair program to improve parts standardization on older cars and reduce stress on inventory of irreplaceable spare parts, the project will result in tangible and measurable improved service reliability and resilience.  The selected project would expand the LRMF to include additional storage tracks and interior spaces for inspection, maintenance, and repair and storage of spare parts and supplies.

 

Edited by kermit
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Interesting. Overall, I think it is a better look to run modern equipment on this route. Perhaps the current Piedmont equipment can be used to start a new service (Wilmington?). 

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The project to triple-track Richmond to DC (and quad track Alexandria to DC) is moving forward (although some funding issues remain). This, along with S-Line reactivation (and moving trains off of the CSX east of Raleigh) should dramatically improve OTP for NC trains heading north.

https://wamu.org/story/19/09/11/virginia-gets-green-light-to-add-railway-tracks-between-d-c-and-richmond/

 

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Since kermit forgot to post this over here; 

The Draft EIS for Charlotte to Atlanta passenger rail has been released.

Executive Summary: http://www.dot.ga.gov/InvestSmart/Rail/Documents/Atl-Char/02-Executive Summary.pdf

Full Doc: http://www.dot.ga.gov/IS/Rail/AtlantatoCharlotte/EIS

(yes I copied and pasted that from his post in the Charlotte Gateway Station and Railroad Improvements thread in the Charlotte Forum)

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19 hours ago, Seaboard Fellow said:

*Major* announcement coming tomorrow regarding rail transportation in Virginia. This announcement will have a major impact on rail transportation in NC. 

From a Virginian's for HSR email:

Quote

Just a few minutes ago, Governor Ralph Northam announced the Virginia Passenger Rail Initiative. 

The Governor is proposing that Virginia purchase an ownership stake in several key strategic rail corridors, which along with the expansion of the Long Bridge and a handful of other rail enhancement projects that are part of the proposal, will position Virginia to control its transportation destiny for decades to come. 

Let me rephrase…Virginia is BUYING all or a portion of the entire rail line from DC to North Carolina in addition to buying the Buckingham Branch Railroad from Clifton Forge to Doswell (which is vital to our Commonwealth Corridor service).

This.Is.HUGE!

The Governor’s proposal also includes several vital rail enhancement projects including expanding the Long Bridge over the Potomac which will increase service, improve reliability, and reduce travel times.

All told this proposal will increase Amtrak service by 53 percent and Virginia Railway Express (VRE) service by 39 percent by 2030, with the potential to expand Amtrak service another 8 percent and VRE service 29 percent.

I don't know any more than this but it sounds like public agencies now own all of primary rail passenger corridor from Boston to Charlotte (assuming S-Line reactiviation from Raleigh to Petersburg). It is indeed a MAJOR announcement for passenger rail in the region.

https://wtop.com/dc-transit/2019/12/major-amtrak-vre-expansion-set-under-3-7-billion-virginia-csx-deal/

a $3.7 billion deal which includes funds for the new Long Bridge

New Long Bridge expected completion date in 2026

Purchase also includes the S-Line between Petersburg and NC Line (I believe NC already owns the NC portion?)

 

 

Edited by kermit
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Links:

http://www.drpt.virginia.gov/rail/transforming-rail-in-virginia/

https://www.governor.virginia.gov/newsroom/all-releases/2019/december/headline-850120-en.html

http://drpt.virginia.gov/media/3008/map-program-highlights.pdf

Virginia is buying the portion of the abandoned S-Line in VA, the Buckingham Branch between Doswell and Clifton Forge,  and 1/2 of the RF&P ROW between Richmond and DC. They will also have trackage rights on CSX between Richmond and Petersburg, and VA will own the new Long Bridge over the Potomac, which will be exclusively for passenger use. I can't quite make out how the RF&P portion works. It says VA is acquiring 1/2 of the entire ROW and 39 miles of track. I'm guessing that CSX retains the existing double track, and VA gets any existing additional tracks as well as any additional track in the future (there are an additional 37 miles planned as of now).

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