Saturday, April 20, 2024

Wilmington to Raleigh rail corridor awarded $500K as first steps of future project

A future Wilmington to Raleigh rail corridor received $500,000 in federal grant money to begin developing a scope of work. The route would begin in downtown Wilmington and run through Burgaw, Wallace, Warsaw, Goldsboro, Selma and Clayton into Raleigh. (Courtesy photo)

WILMINGTON — The future of passenger rail connecting Wilmington to Raleigh is one step closer to become a reality.

READ MORE: Federal rail grants posted this November, NC leaders support Raleigh to Wilmington corridor

ALSO: Passenger rail from Wilmington to Raleigh takes another step forward, federal funding available

According to an announcement from U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis’ office, $500,000 was awarded for identification and development of the rail corridor. The Wilmington to Raleigh route was one of seven chosen in North Carolina for a total of $3.5 million in grant funding received from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Sen. Tillis said in a press release the money could be “transformational” for North Carolina travel.

The other corridors awarded money include:

  • Charlotte to Washington, D.C.
  • Charlotte to Atlanta, Georgia
  • Charlotte to Kings Mountain
  • Winston-Salem to Raleigh
  • Fayetteville to Raleigh
  • Asheville to Salisbury

The half-a-million dollars in seed money will be used for developing a scope, schedule and cost estimate for a service plan for each route. There is no local match required.

The proposed Wilmington to Raleigh corridor would provide new service on an existing CSX alignment, part of which has been abandoned and would need to be restructured to include new stations. The modern trains would run 70 to 80 miles per hour for a less than three-hour trip.

Cape Fear officials supported North Carolina Department of Transportation applying for the Federal Railroad Administration’s grant program in May. Nearly $102 billion has been set aside in the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law for the purpose of extending passenger rail.

In September, state and federal leaders met in Wilmington to show support for the 134-mile rail line running from Wilmington through Burgaw, Wallace, Warsaw, Goldsboro, Selma and Clayton into Raleigh.

East Carolina Rail, a nonprofit organization supporting the return of passenger rail, has also been hosting events along the possible future stops, starting with Burgaw.

CATCH UP: A return to roots: Burgaw on shortlist of rail stops along Wilmington-to-Raleigh line

The FRA established the corridor ID program in May 2022 to help bring more passenger rail lines to the country and opened grant applications in December for agencies to put forth requests. NCDOT included the Raleigh to Wilmington connection, along with 12 others.

NCDOT is partnering with Amtrak, charged with operating the corridors. Currently, the closest Amtrak station to Wilmington is in Fayetteville.

Subsequent funding for each of the corridors to include site development plan requires a 10% state or local match, and the project development phase requires a 20% match.

Applicants selected for the second phase of funding must outline the purpose and need for the connection; public involvement is required. A technical analysis will also have to be done, to include a travel demand forecast, operations review, station, labor and access planning, fleet planning, conceptual engineering, and an estimate on operating and maintenance costs. As well, an environmental analysis is a requirement, along with a benefits-cost review.

The final step would be project implementation.

Steve Unger, co-founder of Eastern Carolina Rail, said it could take seven to 12 years from today for the rail line to be completed and in service. The final cost is estimated to be upward of $300 million, with 20% as local and state contributions and the rest coming from federal funding.

Meaning, the Wilmington Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization is renovating 525 N. Fourth St. in the Brooklyn Arts District, near Edward Teach Brewery, to be a multi-modal center and its new home offices. The building is intended to serve as the city’s transportation hub, with improved facilities and convenience for public transportation users.

Also on the WMPO and city docket is the Wilmington Downtown Rail Trail, with the initial phase to convert the abandoned rail corridor from downtown to the Love Grove community, near Screen Gems Studios, as a 1.7-mile multi-use path.

The end goal is to implement passenger rail along a portion of the same corridor as the rail trail — Third to Eighth streets — which used to connect Wilmington to the East Coast via Atlantic Coast Line Railroad before closing more than 50 years ago. 


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