We talked here back in '07 about the N.C. Railroad's plan to study the feasibility of commuter rail on the existing rail corridor.
(Quick background: the NCRR is a state-owned private company that owns the 1850s-era 200-foot-wide rail corridor, leases it to operators -- currently Norfolk Southern -- and uses the cash for capital improvements.)
Well, the NCRR released its study yesterday, finding a cost of just over $1 billion to bring commuter rail service to the Greensboro-to-Goldsboro corridor.
Of course, it's worth noting that there's a very large asterisk to that number. The $1 billion isn't solely devoted to building a commuter rail system per se, but includes almost 55 miles of double-tracking -- that is, putting a second (or in some cases third) line of track parallel to the first line.
Spinning that as a commuter rail cost glosses over the fact that such permanent improvements to the railroad system are available for passenger service as well as freight service.
And the NCRR makes no bones about the fact that preserving freight service -- which, after all, is the cash cow for the company -- is its first goal, with the railroad listing in the study results that "NCRR and NS must maintain the ability to serve existing and future freight customers 24/7 without delay."
Our briefly cynical view: given the dollars very likely to flow out there from the Feds in the next few years for transit, what a great way to get the rail infrastructure upgraded in the corridor, funded and positioned as a commuter rail project!
That matter aside, the NCRR deserves credit for putting together a solid plan for commuter rail service, with the help of their consulting team.
For Triangle folks, the most relevant part of the plan are the blue, red and yellow lines in the graphic above, expected to link Raleigh and west Raleigh with RTP and Durham via Cary and Mo'ville. Durham proper would have two stops -- with west Durham, we assume, aiming at the Duke/VA employment centers -- with trains continuing further west of the Bull City to Univ. Station Rd. for a connection to a spur route to Chapel Hill/Carrboro.
The Triangle-centric Raleigh-to-Durham line and the Chapel Hill/Carrboro spur would cost about $275 million in capital improvements to the tracks and lines and for the construction of 13 commuter rail stations. The outlying segments (to Goldsboro, Burlington, Greensboro and so forth) would add almost $380 million in additional cost.
Another $355 million would be devoted to purchasing 13 trains, a maintenance facility and five layover yards.
All together, its a $1 billion proposal, though at $7 million per mile over the length of the corridor, it's fairly reasonable -- from a pure cost perspective, if not ROI from a ridership perspective -- for a transit program.
$141 million of the total cost would be for Durham County -- a useful number for comparative purposes, given that just building the East End Connector highway alone surpasses that for capital cost.
The NCRR is quick to note that this plan has not included any assessment of the ridership demand for such a service; the operating costs of running one; or how to work transit-oriented development into the mix to raise funds for the system while spurring ridership.
Learn more at the NCRR's web site.