Monday, October 26, 2009

Commuter rail - westward ho?

Commuter rail to ... I bet you're thinking, " ... to Davidson and North Mecklenburg." A rail line to the north is one of CATS' top priorities, to be built as soon as the feds cough up some money to build it.

In Gaston County, though, they're thinking commuter rail from Charlotte to Gastonia. The Gaston Gazette recently reported on the City of Gastonia's first estimates of what it would cost to build a commuter line on the old Piedmont & Northern railbed, which runs from Charlotte to Mount Holly and on to Gastonia: $265 million to $300 million.

Part of the route's right of way – between Mount Holly and Charlotte – is controlled by CSX and carries freight. The N.C. Rail Division of the N.C. DOT owns the 11.6 miles from Mount Holly to Gastonia, plus a 3-mile spur to Belmont. Here's a link to a map of the P&N line in Gaston County. And here's a link to the NCDOT's page showing the rail rights of way it owns. The P&N was built by tobacco and power company magnate James B. Duke, and carried passengers until 1951.

At the moment, of course, there's no state, federal or local funding for this rail project. And the Charlotte Area Transit System (aka CATS) doesn't have the P&N line as one of its five proposed transit corridors. It's just an idea – but one with support among some key Gaston County leaders, who see a stronger connection to Charlotte as a way to boost economic prospects in a county where unemployment last month was 13.3 percent.

Reminder of terminology: "Commuter rail" typically means a passenger train akin to the inter-city Amtrak service, although some commuter rail uses newer technology, and the cars are usually less comfy. Stations are relatively far apart compared with subway, streetcar, light rail service. But don't call it "heavy rail." That's a term for a system with a powerful electric rail down there with the tracks. It's the "third rail," the kind you should never, ever touch – hence the expression, "Social Security (or any other untouchable policy) is the third rail of American politics." Subways, not commuter trains, tend to be "heavy rail."


Harris said...

we dont need to make it eaiser for people from gastonia to get here. In fact we should build a wall

Anonymous said...

Sheer insanity. $300 million (lowball figure, of course) of new debt with double-digit unemployment? Sheer insanity.

Anonymous said...

I think it's a good idea for the long-term. Definitely something that should be considered. Maybe it will help spur growth in Gastonia and turn that place around because it could sure use some help!

J said...

If this line could somehow connect to the airport, it would make a lot of sense.

Speaking of that, let me tell y'all about a train that makes sense - the Minneapolis light-rail line. It starts downtown at the Nicolett Mall shopping district, passes the Metrodome, goes southward through the east side of town, to the airport south of town (technically in Bloomington), and on to the Mall of America.

Imagine that - a mass transit line that goes from downtown to the airport to your city's biggest tourist attraction.

But what do we get? A mass transit line from downtown to.... pretty much nowhere.

And y'all say us damn Yankees are the problem....

consultant said...

Why are people AGAINST investing in mass transit? Whether it's commuter rail, passenger rail, light rail or subways. Why?

I mean, it's not like you're asking people to put a land fill in your neighborhood or a maximum security prison right next to a high school.

Why do some people HATE it? You know, like people HATE Hitler.


Anonymous said...

we dislike it cause LYNX was planned so poorly and wasted so much $$$ that is sickening to taxpayers.

it goes from a sonny's in pineville to a arena we didn't want....not real easy to stomach.

i would love to see something to the airport, that is the most logical thing to do and i never hear that mentioned.

Anonymous said...

i'm a-feared of them steam engine buggies and flying machines.

keep dem outta my territorrie.


Anonymous said...

lets give the least educated area transit. Well if Gastonia will pay for it let'em have at it.

Wayne said...

It's crazy period. But if it happens, let's start with connecting the airport to uptown first.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

The airport makes millions of dollars from parking. Mass transit would cut into those fees. No mass transit to the airport anytime soon!!

Anonymous said...

Why don't they and why didn't they do it differently to begin with. If the railroad tracks are already there, just buy trains to fit on those tracks and build a few Stations. All the tracks were onece used for commuter rail anyway. There's not a need to relay the tracks. Test it for a few years without making such a large investment.

Anonymous said...

Time out! No one said anything about the rootin-tootin-taxpayers of Mecklenburg County paying for this. In fact, this seems to be an incentive by Gaston County. And good for them - they have a chance to piggyback on a bright future mass transit system. They would be crazy not to consider this (as crazy as Iredell was, and hopefully not as crazy as Cabarus or Union might be).

And look at it like this: if the system does cost $300M, and 3/4 of it is in Gaston County, then presumably, Gaston County would be responsible for 225M. Meck Co. tax payers could get a train to the airport for 75M. Now that's a deal.

Anonymous said...

About the airport line. Although I agree that it would seem to be the smartest way to go, they (CATS) did study that and found that it would be the least utilized of all the proposed lines. And the federal money flows to what project they can show will put the most buts in seats.

Anonymous said...

A couple of weeks ago me and my family rode the LYNX line from Pineville to Uptown. We paid for our round-trip tickets and got on the train. While we were waiting for the train to leave the station at Pineville I watched to see how many others went to the ticket kiosk to buy a ticket. Everyone who got on the train after us bypassed the ticket kiosk and rode (seemingly) for free. We were never asked to show our tickets once.

Other than the taxpayers and the honest "suckers" like me who pay for a ticket I have no idea how LYNX is recouping any money on the initial project. The Westward commute to and from Gastonia is probably the least congested in rush hour anyway. It doesn't make sense...this whole light-rail/train situation has never made sense especially in light of the current economy. The taxpayers can't burden much more...especially for folks who use the system and never pay. They need to implement a mandatory payment system on the current line. IMO

Anonymous said...

The problem with the Charlotte light rail and train strategy is the lack of logic. They built the first one in an extremely low population density area. It was cheaper land and cheaper right of way, but also with less population that would have a need for it.

The most successful light rail lines are built where the density exists.

In Seattle they designed the first light rail line to go from downtown Seattle to the airport. The next one connects from the downtown to the Univ of Washington and all points in between.

The next expansion will be through Bellevue over to the Microsoft campus.

Design the transit system to connect people.

Charlotte seems to be designing for political reasons and with little actual thought for moving people from point A to point B.

CATS is an example of what not to do for regional transit planning.

Anonymous said...
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Gerry said...

Terminology wrong:

sorry, an electrified third rail is just one type of commuter rail. Heavy rail includes electrified subways like New York and DC, as well as the entire AMTRAK system, which is not electrified except between Boston and Washington. Commutter rail is typically heavy rail trains that run a short distance (usually 50 miles or less) and tend to run at peak hours only, not evenings and weekends. The MARC line between Baltimore Camden Yards and DC Union station is a heavy rail commuter service, it is not electrified at all. The proposed North Corridor commuter service to Davidson is also heavy rail.

Anonymous said...

I used to ride the Charlotte amusement park ride, I meant light rail to work. From Pineville to downtown, I meant Uptown. What a waste of $ and very poorly planned. Even at the height of rush hour, not packed at all. Maybe packed 8 times per year for Panther games. Maybe. No way to ensure the riders pay. Not talking about the police once one is already riding.

Another example - of many - of Charlotte having major city envy. Trying to be a major city when its a large town like Birmingham, Nashville, Richmond, Orlando...
Pay close attention, the traffic is coming from the North and East and SC. Everywhere where light rail isn't.

Anonymous said...

What an idea?
Expand a rail service that's hardly being utilized now.

Why not build another whitewater center for all of america to come to?

Or a Nascar museum that the 47 states not named Virginia, NC and SC will visit alot?

Or why not build Uptown to be RTP, but taller - with no shopping unless you eat and drink?

Or why not build an outer loop that you can't finish?

Lastly, why not actually get a Charlotte politician elected to Raleigh or DC where they can actually make a difference outside of Gastonia, Rock Hill and Huntersville? That's the hard part. Then $ would be more available to the QC.

WashuOtaku said...

Anonymous @ 3:15
You obviously not familiar then about Charlotte, the Blue Line going down South Blvd. is going through a realativly populated area where people live, work, and commute too. There isn't really any "DENSE POPULATED" areas in Charlotte like in Seattle... that's like comparing Apples to Watermelons.

As for the suggested line itself, I don't think it's very logical... cheap but wouldn't save commute time or be busy. If you completely by-pass the Airport between Charlotte and Gastonia, then what is the point? It would be the most direct route and viable alternative to I-85/Wilkenson Blvd. And if costs are a concern, maybe they should introduce a different pricing model similiar to Washington, D.C.

The Mount Holly route would probably be more doable for Lincolnton-Conover-Hickory route; though that reality is most unlikely at this time.

WashuOtaku said...

Anonymous @ 3:42
Sounds like you dislike change; putting up a grip list doesn't help since: they are not turning off the LYNX, already built said sites around the city, and because the state is a republic we hadn't had the votes to get someone in Western North Carolina to get elected as Governer. These are things that cannot be helped at this point and your comment was not constructive in any way.

If you dislike the subject, then say why and the reasons behind it; don't just bitch because you dislike change.

Anonymous said...

Light rail on Independence! Do it!

Anonymous said...

Sounds like you made the prior postings point.
That Charlotte (and Western NC west of Greensboro/High Point and Winston-Salem for that matter) is almost irrelevant in its own state.

Imagine Chicago, Atlanta, Baltimore, LA - all being the largest cities in their respective states AND being irrelevant politically.

That's Charlotte in a nutshell and why light rail remains 'light' and the outer loop remins the outer almost-a-loop.

Instead of venting your displeasure with posters, find a way to get Charlotte politicians (even one) elected outside of Charlotte.

Anonymous said...

Basically whatever the government estimates the cost to be you can more or less double it.

Anonymous said...

Wow, after reading most of these comments most of you have NO IDEA what you're talking about. Sad.

Anonymous said...

Charlotte can't expand light rail into densely populated areas. It needs to be put where developers can get cheap land to throw up crappy condos subsidized by taxpayers. Hence the "South Corridor".

Anonymous said...

They should build passenger rail heading out East Independence in to Union County -- that is where the largest numbers of remaining taxpayers in the entire area live.

peter said...

The Charlotte, NC Unemployment Situation Visualized in Heat Map form:
A map of Charlotte Unemployment in September 2009 (BLS data)

Canada Guy said...

Rail transport, especially electrified rail, is much more efficient, and less damaging to the environment, than transportation by car or truck. It can help to dramatically reduce energy use and carbon emission. Even better, it's a win/win scenario for the economy, the environment and the fight against global warming.