Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Commuter rail in Triangle? Study finds riders

The N.C. Railroad Co. commissioned a study that found up to 8,238 riders per weekday by 2022 projected for a possible commuter rail line between Durham and the Johnston County town of Wilson's Mills. It looked at the whole Greensboro to Goldsboro stretch and concluded a 50-mile section in the Triangle had the highest possibility for ridership - up to 2 million riders per year.

Here's the Raleigh N&O article. And here's WRAL TV's version.

Note the projected cost to construct the line $5 million to $7 million a mile. That's eye-popping to be sure. But according to N.C. Department of Transportation Secretary Gene Conti, building a mile of interstate highway is $30 million to $50 million a mile. Makes the rail look awfully cost-effective, doesn't it?

As the N&O article says,
If the forecast is accurate, the Triangle would have a busier rail line than the commuter trains that now serve such cities as San Diego and San Jose.
"Look at other high-growth areas around the country," said Scott Saylor, the N.C. Railroad president. "There aren't many that don't have commuter rail."

All together now: We know of a big one! We're living in it.


Bob said...

The double tracking of the NCRR from CLT to Greensboro would make commuter service from here to Salisbury / Gboro easy (no new rails necessary). It would also connect to more jobs than the Triangle line (downtown CLT, UNCC, downtown Concord, NC Research Campus, downtown Salisbury etc.)

Brendan said...

It'll happen here before it happens there. The piddly section of the LYNX gets 5 million riders per year, and that doesn't include all the freeriders! We definitely need the red line commuter heavy rail that has been proposed to go from gateway station (another facility we need to get started on already) up to Huntersville, Davidson, Mooresville. The rail is already there, just need station upgrades and the train. The hardest and most expensive part of implementing any transit system is getting the right of ways, so when it exists already it is a huge plus!

Lana said...

Yes, that's right Mary. Charlotte grew WITHOUT commuter rail. Thanks for noticing. Oh wait... you hate growth. Make up your mind.

Brendan said...

I don't think Mary hates growth, just irresponsible growth. And a commuter rail doesn't create growth, it makes it so that the inevitable growth is more bearable. Charlotte is inefficient, which costs taxpayers more money over time than up front investment in planning for the future. We don't want to end up with more expensive problems to solve like Eastland Mall or Independence Blvd. CMS is laying off 600 public school teachers today, I think we could stand to use a little more money in the coffers, and planning for the future is the best way to do that.

Lana said...

Eastland Mall is/was a private business. Some private businesses succeed. Some fail. The best thing the government can do is get out of the way and avoid distorting the "invisible hand" that finds the best formula for success. Do you really think AIG and Fannie Mae would have behaved in such a suicidal manner if they didn't know they had a wink-wink understanding that the feds would bail them out?

CMS is NOT laying off 600 teachers today - Peter Gorman is PROPOSING a budget that cuts 600 teaching positions, because crying teachers at budget hearings make for good television. A far more sensible proposal - Kaye McGarry's motion to cut ALL CMS pay by 10% - was defeated because it wouldn't rouse up emotions when the County Commission debates the real budget.

With unemployment up, tax revenues down, property values down and growth stalled, I'd like you to identify the specific sources you think this "more money in the coffers" can come from. Again, be specific. And remember that if the City buys a property like Eastland Mall, it no longer generates property taxes. I look forward to your specific responses.

Brendan said...

If you read what I wrote in context:

"I think we could stand to use a little more money in the coffers, and planning for the future is the best way to do that."

You would realize that I wasn't suggesting specific ways to raise a bunch of money tomorrow. I was making the argument that when you fail to plan you plan to fail. Our tanking economy is a direct result of our lack of planning for sustainable development. Everybody wanted that house in the suburbs with a two car garage and the cars to put in it on an income that was incapable of paying for it.

Where did all this development come from? Oh, the city let it happen. And then everyone needs water, sewer, I-485, police and fire coverage, road widening, the LYNX. That costs money, and it costs more money to cover low density areas with water, sewer, and road than it does to cover the same population in a small area. We didn't raise taxes to get that money, we relied on the low tax base, low density suburban development to cover it. Which it doesn't because the taxes are disproportionately lower for the suburbs compared to the cost of enhancing infrastructure for those same suburbs.

We're paying for all this now because nobody stopped to think about planning for this development 15 years ago. We just let it go on haphazardly and thought 'when it gets bad enough we'll do something about it like a 65 mile long 2 billion dollar beltline.'

We can't be reactive to the whims of private development, because it catches up with you. It just caught up with us and now we're paying dearly for it.

Yeah, businesses fail for many reasons. South Park mall is in a deep hole from all of its reactive corrections to that area and it remains to be seen whether it recovers or not.

Independence Blvd is horrible for businesses and for users. Its bad for businesses (as is obvious with the blighting and razing going on now) because it is a transit corridor, so many people traverse it that it is a pain to access businesses along it. Likewise, because businesses direly want business (imagine that) the road still has intersections and stop lights which is a pain for all the people using it as a transit corridor.

What's the solution? PLANNING!!! If the city creates a transit corridor, tell businesses that they can't build right on it but rather (if they deem the access to it an asset, which many do) allow commercial development at targeted exits and entrances to the corridor.

The reason Americans are suffering right now is because of a lack of planning. And not just at the government level, it goes down to the individual level too. If you make $50,000 a year, YOU SHOULDN'T OWN A HOUSE. Zero down with a monthly interest payment that is twice what you could be spending on rent isn't really property ownership, its signing you life over to a bank and hoping you don't lose your job. Which is fine as long as the economy keeps chugging along, but people who thought that obviously weren't PLANNING.

Now, do I expect people to change? No. People will never plan and they will do what they want. That's fine with me. Put if you want to live unfettered without government intervention, you better dig your own well, put up solar panels, treat your own sewage, put out your own fires, shoot your own intruders, and drive on dirt roads to get where you want to go like Laura Ingalls Wilder, because THAT is what life is like unfettered by the government. If you, however, like the modern world, you have to understand that everything you and everyone else does ends up affecting everyone else in ways you probably never think about, and if we all are going to live together and get along we need to follow rules put in place by a government to make that life possible.

Every individual's life is made possible by the hard work of an immeasurable whole. People who call this socialism are just too self-absorbed to realize that they wouldn't last long WITHOUT society.

Dustin said...

While I agree that commuter rail in the North Corridor should be a top priority in the region, I'm with Bob in that I've wondered why other potential commuter-rail corridors haven't been discussed more frequently. As Bob mentioned, there is the current route taken by Amtrak's Carolinian and Piedmont between Charlotte and potential commuter-rail markets such as Concord, Kannapolis, and Salisbury (and, conveniently, UNCC).

There are also the tracks that run west of uptown, right past the entrance to the airport, and on into Gaston County. The amazing thing is that these rails are already largely double-tracked -- with the exception of a small portion in western Mecklenburg County between Old Dowd Road and the Catawba River, and two sections in Gaston County -- all the way to Bessemer City! And it's worth noting that they already carry daily passenger service, Amtrak's Crescent between New Orleans and New York. They have also been proposed to carry more-frequent service between Charlotte and Atlanta. Further, the tracks pass right by the terminus of CATS' existing 85x Gastonia Express and the Gaston Transit Center.

A starter line could easily connect the planned uptown Gateway Station with Charlotte-Douglas International Airport. This route could readily be augmented with service to Gastonia, which already has a train station served by Amtrak, and rather inexpensive intermediate stations in towns such as Belmont. Combined with increasing the number of trains and stations to the northeast of the city, the region could have a commuter-rail system up and running relatively quickly and without the huge expenditure of building a rail line from scratch.

Just something to think about.

Lana said...


There are hundreds of errors in your post but I'm going to focus on one of the first ones to illustrate how flawed your "logic" is.

You claim that the costs of services and infrastructure to suburban residents is higher than the taxes those residents pay. If that were the case, Charlotte would not have annexed every square inch it could get its hands on over the past 30 years.

Do you really think city staff prepares estimates that say "it will cost $35 million to provide services to this area but you'll only get $25 million in taxes" and then City Council says "Great - let's annex 'em!".

Brendan said...


Yes. Because they didn't think about what they were doing before they did it. The act of doing which is traditionally called planning.

I'm sure when they annexed most of that land, the city was told by its "experts" that those areas had community wells and leaching fields and they already had electricity and phone service and roads, so the only thing the city would have to do is possibly add emergency services and repave the roads every 10 to 20 years. Compared to the tax revenue it was a steal at the time.

Now the intensity of use of these outlying farm lands and small communities has increased dramatically and the city is "surprised" that these lands need additional services that the original tax base can't cover.

If someone had stopped for a second and planned to develop these areas in a smart and sustainable fashion, the city could have avoided some of these euphemistic "growing pains" it is experiencing now.

Please enlighten me as to other hundreds (-1) of alleged errors in my post, because I quite enjoy this discussion.

Brendan said...


You're absolutely right. The western stretch of the Amtrak line (not sure what railroad owns it) would be a prime commuter corridor. A city our size should have rail service between center city and our growing airport. Gastonia is also a prime terminus considering the number of commuters that come from there. Maybe they could scrap plans for that toll road too.

The area between Old Dowd road and the Catawba River Bridge is actually targeted for a new transfer railyard due to its easy access to the interstate and Charlotte's desire to get rid of the railyard on north tryon street outside of uptown. So there may soon be plenty of access through that area.