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Charlotte Gateway Station and Railroad Improvements


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It's been studied and documented ad infinitum.  The government came out way, way ahead.

 

I accept that your opinion on this is different than my own but a quick search on Google Scholar confirms that the question is far from settled.

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Not exactly true. The Seaboard was a land grant railroad IIRC.

 

While this line may not have been a grant, many of the CSX predecessor lines were certainly heavily subsidized by the federal government.

CSX owns and maintains this main line as it does 23k other rail miles. I know all about Seaboard and many of the other predecessor roads acquired through numerous acquisitions and mergers. I'll say it again, there's not a single class 1 railroad that wants passenger or commuter service crossing or traversing their mainline. SAL, ACL and all the other railroads dropped passenger service decades ago. They weren't profitable. The only thing the federal government did was nearly bankrupt the railroads through heavy regulation.

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This topic has been studied, documented and researched almost to death.

 

SOME railroads got discounted or free land, particularly out West.

 

In exchange, they were required to give the government significantly discounted rates for passengers, freight and mail.

 

In those transactions alone, the government came out far ahead, and the railroads would have been better off economically if they'd just bought their own land themselves and been able to charge the government fair-market rates for transportation.

 

Plus the government, mostly at the Federal level through the Interstate Commerce Commission but also through state governments:

 

1. Forced railroads to operate money-losing passenger trains until the 1970s (at a loss of hundreds of millions of dollars a year starting in the 1940s)

2.  Forced railroads to staff trains with excessively large crews

3.  Prohibited railroads from being able to raise and even lower fares for freight and passengers (in order to protect bus lines and airlines); railroads had to charge government-set or government-approved rates until the 1980s

4.  Refused to allow railroads to use large, efficient freight cars (until the Southern Railway took the matter all the way to the Supreme Court in the "Big John" case and won)

5.  Refused to allow railroads to abandon unprofitable lines

6.  Charged railroads excessive property taxes- even for lines that weren't profitable and that the railroads wanted to abandon, but couldn't- and used tax money to subsidize railroads' competitors

 

As a result of all of this, railroads were all on the verge of death by the 1970s.  Only a lessening of the oppressive practices described above, mainly through the Staggers Act and by letting Amtrak and government-sponsored commuter train agencies, in the 1970s and 1980s, let railroads survive.

 

In short, railroads got some free land, but they paid a far heavier price.

Very well said. I'm glad you posted as I didn't have time to go into that great of detail.

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Overwhelming discussion, I guess because there is such a deep history.  At its core, this is a project setting aside ~$200 million to add infrastructure capacity to a highly congested spot on earth that has two major freight railroads, a major food factory, and major interstate, and a key component to passenger rail plans for a city that is on its way to a 5 million person metropolis in 15 years (at current growth rates).

 

This is not about whether governments have the right to build infrastructure or whether Nixon should be spanked in hell for being a meanie.   It is about what to do in order to meet our future and current transportation needs.   

 

Businesses rarely take a long term view, because what does it matter if you can have a better future if you have to temporarily do less and that will hit the quarterly report.   

 

We had a very significant earmark for a project that seems to be vital to the railroad system in the city.   It had a major FRINGE benefit of reducing the impact of the railroad noise for the densest residential neighborhood in the city and for a growing nightlife destination (NCMF).  But it also would allow for capacity to be grown for the two major railroad companies in Charlotte.  

 

Beyond that, we have to provide for passenger rail service in our region to reduce the requirement of driving.  Cities of 5m without solid passenger rail transit are not that easy to navigate.  We really can't just give up and declare dead or future transportation system because of a budget shortfall.  If this is a vital prerequisite to multiple components of our transit system, and if ADM needs an extra $50m for its executives to keep pushing that white powder, why is that not just a budget gap that just now needs to be filled?   We can't shut down the entire bread-system in the region.  But we also can't just give up on building the infrastructure we are going to need?

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I accept that your opinion on this is different than my own but a quick search on Google Scholar confirms that the question is far from settled.

It's well-settled among people who have done detailed research, with numbers, on the topic.  The only people who don't accept that facts are facts are people who just have ideological axes to grind against railroads and don't look at the numbers.

 

Even the government, in multiple studies, has acknowledged that it came out ahead, to the detriment of the railroads.  See, for example, the 1977 US Department of Transportation study and the 1943 study by the Board of Investigation and Research, both of which were commissioned by Congress, and both of which stated that the government was repaid more than in full for land grants.

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Great discussion here, the contrasting views are compelling, not to mention learning that we have the largest mill of this type in the SE.  I had always thought it a legacy of the past, and unfortunately located [to be nice].  My layman's two cents is that this is huge lost opportunity, the kind that could drive our city to the next level, in a very real way.  JS has been growing towards the CBD, and vice versa.  Now a new stadium a block away is doing the same.  We will have more major projects coming from it and RBP.  This station would sit in the middle of it all, at which point the the area really gets amplified by it.  From a regional/eastern seaboard perspective, even more so.  Service downtown would be monumental, perceptually, the current station at what I'll probably incorrectly call the rail yards is not.  Gateway is of course the apt name, because where it would be would truly be a gateway to something awesome, a destination that people from all over would really remember, and that's what grows cities over the generations.

 

Anyway, all the incredible effort spent here on this thread, I have to wonder [cynically], who's listening, but also, how to make them.  And I wonder if every city can trace it's existence and prosperity to a few key voices, people, at the right time, Charlotte was still a village a century and half ago, decades after gold was discovered.

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I tend to think that somebody is still holding out hope for a breakthrough in negotiations, or else there would have been a public announcement? Honestly ADM would be doing its shareholders a disservice if it did not push negotiations to the absolute brink in order to gain as much out of the deal as possible.

 

Negotiations with the railroads over ARRA improvements went to the brink as well, as I recall.

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To tally up the wins and losses for government and railroads and claim that someone is better off than the other is very short cited, it's not a zero sum game. Atlas Shrugged was fiction.

 

Oh and railroads love corporate welfare just as much as any business. 

Please see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Gateway and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crescent_Corridor both of these are programs are expansion of freight capacity and have a significant portion of the cost paid for by the government. 

 

Back to the original question of why is CSX so hard about passenger trains crossing here when similar situations exist all over the country. "because they can" is not an answer. Is there a technical or political reason that sets this crossing apart?

 

TH

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Back to the original question of why is CSX so hard about passenger trains crossing here when similar situations exist all over the country. "because they can" is not an answer. Is there a technical or political reason that sets this crossing apart?

TH

That is a good question. I know I have heard about the CSX restriction on the junction from more than one source. I have to admit that one of those sources was likely this thread from back in 2008. I believe the other source was the state's ARRA funding application, I'll try to find that.

EDIT: my initial search yielded nothing. I'll keep looking but it is possible that that was something I picked up from someone else on this board 'back in the day'. If so, mea culpa.

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As someone who's has no real knowledge of railroads and how they operate, but believes strongly in the need for the city to grow our transportation infrastructure, I am really angry at the railroads around here.  First, NS pretty much blocks the Red Line from happening, and now this.  I know there are so many more things at play, but it just seems like the railroads won't play ball.  I know this situation isn't strictly the fault of the railroads, but it doesn't seem like they're helping.  I just hope there can be some big breakthrough on these projects.

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As someone who's has no real knowledge of railroads and how they operate, but believes strongly in the need for the city to grow our transportation infrastructure, I am really angry at the railroads around here.  First, NS pretty much blocks the Red Line from happening, and now this.  I know there are so many more things at play, but it just seems like the railroads won't play ball.  I know this situation isn't strictly the fault of the railroads, but it doesn't seem like they're helping.  I just hope there can be some big breakthrough on these projects.

 

Honestly I think the red line was the city's failure. They failed to involve the railroad along the way, and have them agree to basic principles form the beginning. The City also failed to understand the political environment they were getting them selves into with Iredell county and the Koch brothers.

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I suspect you'll find that relating to the Red Line Regional and not the intercity passenger service between Charlotte and Raleigh or eastern seaboard.  The Red Line is transit, so the frequency within downtown Charlotte is much higher than the 4 trips a day betweeen Charlotte and Raleigh.  It is also to reactivate a crossing that is separate from the Norfolk Southern crossing, so it adds an extra permutation to the intersection.  I imagine like the difference between a traffic light at a "6-points" versus a standard T for drivers which is more complex, which is why most DOTs in the country avoid them like this .

 

As many have said, the intercity trains do pass through here already, and pass through other crossings, so maybe it is just a matter of dealing with non-ideal circumstances if the station were downtown.  In that case, they will be on the Norfolk Southern tracks and Norfolk Southern owns the crossing, so I am not sure CSX could limit that, even if they don't like it.  But they have more leverage over the separate Red Line (O line) crossing.

 

Gateway Station could and should be built even if the Red Line falters.  As transit, it is the weakest of the corridors in terms of ridership, and already has some steep barriers to entry.  If CSX could block a separate crossing, then I wonder if southslider has a point, that the Red Line should head east at Atando Junction and head through the yards.  They could abandon the O Line corridor between Atando and NCMF Blvd, avoid the complexity of the additional crossing, and have a great opportunity to add a station at Matheson for NoDa and connecting to the Blue Line. 

 

I'm not sure if CSX is the main impediment to this project, versus ADM, but I always figured they were far more impacted because their line was being dropped below grade, requiring them to use temporary tracks during construction.   But clearly the Norfolk Southern corridor is more important in the big picture, as they own the mainline crossing in question, they own the yards, they are building the intermodal terminal at the airport beyond this crossing, and they already have the Amtrak and NCDOT trains to Raleigh and it is on their corridor that have the current station and planned Gateway station.   So if you reroute the Red Line, and negotiate primarily with N-S, CSX basically must follow along with no leverage.   But then there is ADM...

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 If CSX could block a separate crossing, then I wonder if southslider has a point, that the Red Line should head east at Atando Junction and head through the yards.  They could abandon the O Line corridor between Atando and NCMF Blvd, avoid the complexity of the additional crossing, and have a great opportunity to add a station at Matheson for NoDa and connecting to the Blue Line. 

 

Completely uneducated question here about this suggestion. Since that routing makes sense, and a lot of people have raised the issue of Gateway not connected to the Blue LYNX line, why would the city still explore Gateway station at the spot on Graham then?  

I'm wondering if maybe the need is to plan Gateway around the area of 12th/Church/College.   I admit that isn't directly in uptown, but if they could perhaps lower and cap 277 there you would also have impetus for developing first ward.  You also could move the CTC there as providing it with easier highway access for express busses, and a greyhound station, and have better seamless access to most mass transit options 

Again - just asking based off looking at a map and not on any idea of costs/feasibility.

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I guess all options are open if we are 'screwed' by this change of events, but I suspect it would not be easy to abandon the idea of Gateway Station in exchange for a totally new location given all the work that has gone into it.  

 

Elaborating on my point (and southslider's) from earlier, there seems to be an option for changing how the Red Line gets to Gateway along the existing corridor connecting the O line to the rail yards.   Not only does it bring the Red Line into proximity of the Blue Line for easier transfers, it also allows for the current 1960s Amtrak station to be factored in a bit.  

 

First, the Red Line could initially end at the Amtrak station with transfers to the Blue Line during a Phase I while we are waiting on the Gateway funding.  Once Gateway is in place, the Amtrak station would be kept as a free transit-only station and be the main location for commuters to transfer directly to the Blue Line.  This solves a major omission in the transit plans. The pedestrian bridge that would be needed for transfers would have the added benefit of increasing connectivity across the rail yards, connecting the Blue Line station to Lockwood (eventually revitalized). 

 

 

Removing the O Line from the equation of the mainline crossing and ADM site will make it much less complicated, and as mentioned earlier will not be a 'new' crossing, only a bit more traffic on the dominant (Norfolk-Southern) corridor.   

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The curves leading to the line along Atando from the O line should probably be eased, and the at-grade crossings of Graham and North Tryon may need to be dealt with. Tryon is no biggie, just bridge Tryon over it. Graham is more complicated.

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It'll be easier to deal with a crossing at Graham Street, which is slated for major streetscape improvements which can be coordinated, than to have a new crossing co-mingled with the mainline crossing and ADM site downtown.  

 

Yes, it is just you  :ph34r: .   No, I just imaged the Red Line flipping the bird to ADM and CSX, as they can't stop the line if the trains follow the existing N-S corridor.  Obviously the Red Line won't be built AT ALL without the consent of N-S, but by rerouting the Red Line to cross this problem area on a N-S-owned crossing, they override CSX and ADM's consent.  Otherwise, CATS might solve all the problems with N-S but still be blocked by ADM for rebuilding the O line through here.   

 

 

Also, if Gateway Station is totally abandoned, this route will be necessary to connect it to the Blue Line and Amtrak anyway, so why not just go for it.  

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That is a great idea, and could use some of the space freed up by the intermodal yards moving away.   One thing you'll want to look at is the fact that Blue Line is funded and engineered and bids are already in and probably selected.  So that is an unmovable line, so you'd need to factor that in.  There may still be room enough for passing the Amtrak and Red Line tracks to the southeast side of the yards, but I still liked the idea of a 'free' transit station by re-purposing the current Amtrak station to transit.    

http://charmeck.org/city/charlotte/cats/planning/BLE/Pages/BLEAlignmentMaps.aspx

 

 

This would not solve all the big picture/strategic goals of the Gateway Station as a full replacement, because it would not be walkable to major employment centers in the CBD, nor would there be enough space for any buses.  

 

 

That said, we may end up with this if the ADM-area crossings prove unsolvable.   Many many cities in the world have their train stations at the old rail yards sometimes not walkable to the CBD.   If the city 'owns up' to this location, there are many ways they can make it a real station with bus transfers and use the design of a single large pedestrian bridge over the yards with stairs/escalators/elevators down to various platforms in the yards for different routes.  Obviously this location could work for the Red line if rerouted as I showed, and the Blue Line is already being built in the area.   But the thinking for the last 2 decades is that being 1.5 miles from the heart of the CBD, especially in an area that is VERY far behind on revitalization, makes it a bad enough location worth spending tons of money to re-locate.

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I think the station alternatives mentioned are all good adaptations to what we suspect the new reality is and each is a significant improvement over our current situation. I do agree that rerouting the red line via Atando is a sensible choice and the travel time / BLE interface tradoff is a good choice.

 

Having said that, not having the intercity rail station downtown would be a _huge_ lost opportunity for Charlotte. I also think terminating the Red line anywhere north of 10th street would doom it to failure, requiring everyone to make a transfer to the BLE to get to their destinations would be a pretty big barrier to ridership.

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I agree, I think that it is worth the money to still build Gateway Station in the heart of town.  Rerouting the Red Line seems to make the mainline separation project (supposedly dead anyway) less necessary.  The CSX trains will continue to have to wait for whatever trains come through the N-S corridor, no matter how many that may be.  It may even be a net neutral if the airport intermodal yards cause fewer long and slow freight trains coming through from the southwest.    The passenger trains will all be fairly short and on predictable schedules, so it could probably still work.   

 

It means horns will still be blown, but that was always a fringe benefit of the project and not a driving need. 

 

 

Of course in 20 years, when we become the city of 5 million, we will roll our eyes at the foolishness of austerity during the Governor McCheese era, and we can go back in and remake this area and move the flour mill.  We can all dream of a gluten free 4th Ward!  

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It'll be easier to deal with a crossing at Graham Street, which is slated for major streetscape improvements which can be coordinated, than to have a new crossing co-mingled with the mainline crossing and ADM site downtown.  

 

Yes, it is just you  :ph34r: .   No, I just imaged the Red Line flipping the bird to ADM and CSX, as they can't stop the line if the trains follow the existing N-S corridor.  Obviously the Red Line won't be built AT ALL without the consent of N-S, but by rerouting the Red Line to cross this problem area on a N-S-owned crossing, they override CSX and ADM's consent.  Otherwise, CATS might solve all the problems with N-S but still be blocked by ADM for rebuilding the O line through here.   

 

 

Also, if Gateway Station is totally abandoned, this route will be necessary to connect it to the Blue Line and Amtrak anyway, so why not just go for it.

Guys, the NS has control over the diamond that CSX traverses. You have to know that NS will consider CSX concerns relating to traffic over this area because CSX controls many other diamonds that the NS traverses. As much as these two RR's compete, they also look out for each others interest (as much as possible). Both are not to concerned with what a bunch of pro passenger rail fans want. They do strive to be good corporate citizens but at the end of the day both are publically traded and have major stock holders to report too.

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It sounds however that CSX is not the real issue - ADM is. If leaving the O line out of the equation can placate ADM, and allow the grade separation to be built, then it's worth pursuing. I believe both NS and CSX are already on board with the grade separation plan?

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