DURHAM, NC — A proposal to run commuter rail from Durham to Raleigh and possibly east to Clayton faces some serious technical challenges and costs that could top $3 billion to get the line up and running.
Discussions and debates have been going on for decades. Since the early 1990s, numerous commissions, committees and community associations have studied some form of rail service in the Triangle region.
The debate involved all levels of government: city and town councils, state and federal, as well as major companies like Norfolk Southern and Amtrak. It’s a complicated process. But so far since 2007, Charlotte has been able to open rough 19-mile light rail line, streetcarand a The second light rail line is in operationTriangle never got the plan off the ground.
According to GoTriangle, the regional transit authority, the Triangle region is projected to add more than a million people by 2050, and that will mean about a million more cars on the road.
“A robust commuter rail system could provide 12,000 to 18,000 trips each day and help relieve some of the projected congestion,” GoTriangle said in a statement.
The latest idea, a 43-mile route from West Durham to Garner or Clayton, has been in the works for more than a decade. GoTriangle published a new feasibility study in December and is taking public comments until February 19.
What is the current offer?
The latest report, Greater Triangle Commuter Rail Feasibility Study: Phase II Summary Report, takes a close look at the technical challenges involved in building a commuter rail line. The budget for launching the line is 3.2 billion dollars.
The commuter rail will run along the existing rail corridor. The line will be 43 miles and have 15 stops between West Durham and Clayton.
The entire project will take 10 to 12 years to complete.
The plan calls for eight trains per hour during morning and evening rush hours and two trains per hour during off-peak hours from Durham to Garner. This would mean that trains arrive approximately every 30 minutes during peak times. The Garner to Clayton route will have fewer trains.
The study also looks at different fares for rail service, from free to zoned, which would charge up to $4.50 for a trip from Durham to Clayton. Under the zonal model, a trip from downtown Durham to Raleigh’s Union Station would cost $3.50. The current rate for GoTriangle regional bus services is $2.50.
The study predicts that people will make between 10,000 and 18,000 trips per day, depending on the cost.
How much would it cost?
There are many technical details that would need to be worked out, but GoTriangle estimates the cost to be around $3.2 billion. This money could be used to buy trains, lay new tracks, build new station platforms and do everything else to get the line up and running.
Annual operating costs will be about $43 million, according to GoTriangle.
Where does the money come from?
The main source of funding for the commuter rail project comes from a half-cent sales tax increase approved by voters in Wake, Durham and Orange counties. In this way, Charlotte financed most of the new light rail system for the Queen City.
“Revenues from the half-cent sales tax can be used to finance, build, operate and maintain local public transportation systems,” according to GoTriangle. “The funds may be used to supplement, but not displace or replace, existing funds or resources for public transportation systems.”
“Durham, Orange and Wake counties passed required referendums in 2011, 2012 and 2016, respectively, and transit plans for each county determine how transit tax revenues are spent,” GoTriangle said in the report. Orange County is not part of this project.
Johnston County doesn’t have a half-cent sales tax to pay its share of the cost, so it’s unclear what funding will look like for the east end of the line.
This month, members of the Durham County Commission are considering updating the county’s transit plan. Durham County’s plan calls for spending more than a quarter of its transit budget to support commuter rail.
Federal funding may also be available to cover the cost of building a new line. The GoTriangle report said the project would likely not qualify for the main federal transit grant program. But there may be money in the bipartisan Infrastructure Act to help cover some of the costs.
What are the biggest challenges?
The report details a number of technical challenges needed to build the route. The easiest part is from Raleigh Union Station to Garner. The middle section, from Research Triangle Park to Union Station, is a bit trickier. It would be more difficult in Durham.
“The addition of road and station infrastructure to the city center in Durham will be highly visible and will inevitably cause disruption during construction,” the report said. GoTriangle said it has come up with options to do all the work.
“Moving forward, however, will require input from all affected stakeholders, and there is currently no consensus between the parties on the design,” GoTriangle reported.
“There are currently plans to build three stations in or near the center of Durham. Implementing services in this area would be difficult and expensive due to the built-up area around the corridor, limited street network with complex level crossings and low bridge clearances,” the report said. Add to that historic buildings, large universities, a fast-growing downtown and limited land, and the challenges multiply.
There are other problems with the provision of rail transport.
“Comprehensive agreements are needed between Norfolk Southern, CSX, Amtrak, NCRR, NCDOT and the City of Cary to manage operations on the Raleigh-Cary portion, and these agreements will take time to negotiate,” the report said.
So what’s next?
GoTriangle is accepting comments on this latest feasibility study until February 19. Transit authorities and project partners are working to refine cost estimates and identify opportunities for more federal grants.
If Wake and Durham counties, along with all the other involved groups and the government, approve this latest report, it will be time to start spending real money to promote the commuter rail line.
If everyone agrees to move forward, the next steps will include preliminary engineering and environmental studies. GoTriangle estimates that this will be between 5% and 10% of the construction cost, which could be as much as $30 million or more. Money for the next steps will come from the county’s local transit plan funding.
There is still a long way to go before the suburban railway project becomes a reality. A separate project to build a light rail line from Chapel Hill to Durham was shelved by Duke University in 2019. GoTriangle has spent more than $150 million on planning, engineering and environmental work for this 17.7-mile route.
If the project continues apace, it will be at least a decade before passengers can board a local train in Raleigh to travel to Durham or vice versa.
In the coming weeks, GoTriangle will host several events to explain this plan.
6:30-8:30pm John Chavis Community Center
505 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Raleigh, NC 27601
5:30-7:30 p.m. County Durham Public Library
300 N. Roxboro St., Durham, NC 27701
5:30-7:30pm Morrisville City Council Chambers
100 Town Hall Drive, Morrisville NC 27560
17.00-20.00 City Hall
111 E. Second St., Clayton, NC 27520
5:30-7:30pm St. Joseph’s AME
2521 Fayetteville St., Durham, NC 27707
Will the Triangle ever get commuter rail? 5 things you need to know
Source link Will the Triangle ever get commuter rail? 5 things you need to know