Transit in North Carolina's Triangle; CR in Québec

Today’s news updates:

In North Carolina, there’s an increasing effort to sell transit alternatives in both the Research Triangle Area (Raleigh, Durham, Cary, and Chapel Hill) and in Charlotte, which recently completed its first light rail line. There’s been an effort over the past twenty-odd years to push for the development of regional rail, which I chronicled more extensively two years ago on another website. Back then in 2006, it seemed obvious that the federal government, then firmly in the hands of transit-hating Republicans, was not going to push for the funding of such a rail line. This seemed especially true since North Carolina’s own (and now defeated) Republican Senator Elizabeth Dole was against the project.

But the tides seemed to have turned. Earlier this summer, the North Carolina Railroad, a state-owned, for-profit corporation, released a study in which it presented the possibility for a new commuter rail service running through the Triangle, with stations going out as far east as Goldsboro and as far west as Greensboro. Though this service would provide minimal service compared to what the Triangle Transit Authority had been proposing in the past, since freight and commuter rail trains would continue to operate on the same tracks, it would mean a significant expansion of rail options in the region, which currently is served by just a few Amtrak trains a day and no local intercity lines.

And a local group working with the Triangle Transit Authority and regional governments, the Special Transit Advisory Commission, released a study arguing for the development for a massive network of regional rail lines, light rail lines, and inner city circulators criss-crossing the region. And additional local group in Durham has been pushing for the development of a downtown streetcar even more recently. The result would be a large network that would get the region up to speed with transit networks around the country and finally give people in the area a chance to commute more easily without a car.

But news comes of a dramatic change to the original concept of the system. Whereas before, the plan had been to run diesel multiple units from Raleigh to Durham (along the side of existing freight rail), and then to run light rail vehicles from Durham to Chapel Hill (in their own right-of-way), which would have meant a transfer for riders, the newly transit-happy North Carolina Railroad sees light rail as feasible along the entire route.

This change would pose several advantages for the system. One, as already written, it would eliminate that transfer and allow riders to connect all the way between Chapel Hill and Raleigh without getting off the train. Second of all, it would allow the system to run on electricity, an increasingly environmentally-friendly alternative to diesel engines. Third, it would mean that the system could function as something akin to a  streetcar in some sections of its route, which would be ideal for the downtowns of Durham and Raleigh and potentially allow the train’s stations to be closer to top destinations than originally planned. We’ll be keeping our eyes on the Triangle for future news about the development of its transit system.

Meanwhile, down the road in Charlotte, there’s plenty of good news about the now one-year-old Lynx Light Rail system. Not only have the trains acheived record ridership, but they’ve encouraged the city’s leadership to push for more transit, more quickly. Though Charlotte’s Mayor, Republican Pat McCrory, a big advocate of transit, lost his bid for the governorship, it looks like the state’s two big new Democratic politicians – Governor Beverly Purdue and Senator Kay Hagan – are also transit supporters. So they’ll be looking positively at the success of Charlotte’s system – and probably be inclined to fund further expansions around the state.

Out in Québec, commuter rail transit is becoming a big political fight in the election scheduled for December 8th. The Parti Québécois is arguing for a $3.5 billion (canadian) expansion of the Montréal rail network, which they argued would better serve the surrounding area. Meanwhile, Liberals, under the leadership of Jean Charest, are also pushing for such an expansion. Unclear whether either party, if they win, will actually be able to undertake the kind of expansions their leaders are suggesting. In this economic climate…

1 Comment | Leave a Reply »
  • Nathanael Nerode

    Hilariously, the “STAC” was organized after the original rail plan lost political support (due to the necessary taxes among other things). In order to put a fig leaf over it, they got together a group of businessmen to form the STAC and propose different transit alternatives — they were expected to propose something much smaller, probably with a lot more buses.

    Instead, it turned out the businessmen *really wanted* rail and they proposed a *BIGGER* plan than before.

    That, unsurprisingly, changed the political climate in Raleigh-Durham quite dramatically (as did the success of LYNX).

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