$545 Million For Rail Upgrade From Slow To Mediocre-Speed

The point of this post is not to sound pessimistic but I need to get one thing off my chest first. High speed rail does not consist of trains moving at 110 mph. That is not at all pushing the limits of what modern day trains can do. I’m sure it sounds fast but when North Carolina has trains zipping from one side of the state to the other at speeds of 200+ mph, then we can throw around the term ‘high-speed’. If you want an idea of what real high-speed looks like click and watch this video.

With that out of the way, our state is getting $545 million of federal stimulus money that will go towards improving rail transit. The bulk of the grant, $520 million, will go towards the Charlotte to Raleigh corridor with the rest being spent on the connection north to Richmond. This was part of $8 billion worth of stimulus funds being allocated between 33 states. Click here to see the entire list of states and who got what.

Its called the Southeast High-Speed Rail corridor that may one day connect Washington DC to Raleigh and Raleigh to Charlotte and on to Atlanta. We’ve talked about this before on the blog. Along with our ‘winnings’, Florida was the only other southeast state that received money however. Because it’s part of SEHSR, tracks will be improved to increase speeds and the frequency of trips between the queen city and the capital are planned to double.

I have not quite gotten around to doing the train trip to Charlotte but it is on the to-do list. Let’s see what the experience would be like if I left this weekend.

  • Booking a trip on Amtrak.com seems easy enough. Leave Friday, Jan. 29th and return Jan. 31st.
  • The Piedmont leaves at 6:50am for $25. I need to work so I’ll pass
  • The Carolinian leaves at 4:50pm for $25. My only other choice so I’ll go with this one.
  • I need a return trip. I again have a morning and afternoon option. The Piedmont it is at 5:30pm for another $25.
  • Total travel time: 3 hr, 24 min departure. 3 hr, 13 min return. $50 total cost

We’ll re-visit this post later in time to compare if things are getting better. Now I love riding a train but it also has to make sense. This might work when compared to a single person driving to Charlotte but if I bring the lady with me, splitting gas beats this situation every time. In this scenario, the cost is what is driving people away and so is the ease of a major highway connecting the two cities.

I’m hopeful though, as always, and think that the faster trains would make them competitive with the highway. If driving and riding took the same amount of time, the convenience of sitting in a spacious rail car and never being slowed by traffic might be worth it to some people.

As for downtown Raleigh, this corridor would go right through it and more passengers means much more headaches at an already too small train station on Cabarrus Street. The additional trains and passengers may help get us talking about that multi-modal transit center for the Boylan Wye.

Also, the Southeast High-Speed Rail project has a great website.

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  1. I don’t get what happened to Amtrak rates. Back in 2000 I took a train from Raleigh to Charlotte and back. Total cost was under $20. Maybe it’s fuel. Ahh, back in the day.

  2. One reason why the 110mph number is weak is that it’s a top speed number. Amtrak already hits close to 80mph on that trip anyway. I completely agree that 200+mph is true high-speed.

    Plus, being able to say I’ve been in a car going close to that number, it really doesn’t seem all that fast.

  3. My question is , what happens when you get off the train? The reason that trains work in Europe and elsewhere is that there is a connecting grid within that city, such as DC or NYC etc. We don’t have that here, so even if its high speed it will get you nowhere fast. People are not going to give up their cars unless they have reliable public transit within the city. We have a long way to go with this.

  4. I think this is good news for North Carolina and I think it makes a lot of sense. I don’t think the southeast is ready for true high speed rail for a number of reasons. 1. Both Raleigh and Charlotte have terrible train stations with terrible locations. Charlotte’s is located in a seedy area far from Uptown, as you mentioned Raleigh’s is too small. If and when both cities build their new transit centers (both located close to the downtown areas) and both transit centers connect to buses or light rail or some other public transit that allows travelers to get from the train station to their hotel/house/office or whatever, then we’ll be ready for real fast trains. 2. The southeast is growing up but it’s not yet “mature” as I would call it. We have one real city down here and that’s Atlanta. Other places, especially the Northeast Corridor, have several major cities (5 between Boston and DC at a distance about as far as DC to Charlotte, which has exactly one city, DC). Richmond, Raleigh, Greensboro and Charlotte are all growing but even Charlotte is just under 2 million people, smaller than the four metro areas in the northeast (with DC and Baltimore being one). I have ridden the Carolinian and it’s constantly delayed, so double tracking and improved crossings, if they can actually cut the trip by an hour or more, would do wonders, and downtown train stations (so if I want to head down to Charlotte for a Panthers game or an expo at the new Modern Art Museum I could do so without any hassle) would also be fantastic. We’re not looking for high speed rail, we’re looking for modern rail. And most people don’t realize that in Europe only major cities (Paris to London, etc) are connected by 200 mph trains, most of the lines are closer to 100 mph. Since we have no major cities (yet), this means averaging 90 mph or so would be about on part with similar routes in countries with legitimate high speed trains.

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