High-Speed Rail from Charlotte to Macon
Transportation officials from North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia have released a report (PDF) considering the development of a high-speed rail segment from Charlotte, North Carolina to Macon, Georgia, via Greenville, South Carolina and Atlanta. The route would form the principal extension of existing plans for a Southeast High-Speed Rail corridor, which would run from Washington, D.C. to Charlotte, via Richmond, Virginia, and Raleigh, North Carolina, though another segment, from Raleigh to Jacksonville, Florida, via Columbia, South Carolina and Savannah, Georgia, is also being considered.
The study, prepared by the Volpe Center of Cambridge, Massachusetts, evaluated several options, including diesel locomotives and electric trains, running at speeds from a modest 90-mph to a world-class 200-mph, with an assumed frequency of 6 trains a day. Improvements might range from upgrading of the existing one-track corridor for a 5.5 hour journey time, or the construction of a second track with 200-mph service, allowing for a 2.5 hour journey.
The cost of implementing such a proposal ranges from $1.7 billion for 90-mph service along the existing Amtrak route to $3.3 billion for 200-mph service along a new route paralleling I-75, which means that true, very high-speed service could be achieved at a relatively modest cost (compare that $3 billion to the $6 billion expected to be spent on the Dulles Metrorail extension) along a very important corridor connecting the South’s two most important cities, Atlanta and Charlotte.
But the study recommends a fast diesel train service, operating at 125 or 150-mph (presumably using something similar to the Bombardier JetTrain), costing $2 to $2.5 billion, and allowing for a travel time from Charlotte to Macon in 3.5 to 4 hours. The study concludes that this would be the most efficient use of the funds, because it would break even by 2030, unlike a 200-mph system, which wouldn’t do so until 2040 at the earliest. And a 3.5 hour travel time is a huge improvement.
But on such an important route – which would ultimately be part of a New York-Florida high-speed trunk line – shouldn’t we focus our efforts to make this the fastest, best-quality system we can muster? In an era of high gas prices and global climate change, shouldn’t we focus on developing our electric rail network, rather than continuing to use diesel locomotives?
No decisions have yet been made, but considering that North Carolina has no intention of utilizing electric propulsion in the first phase of the route, it seems unlikely that Georgia would implement it on the second, so if this project gets funded – itself an unlikely prospect – it will be a diesel, moderately-fast service.
Above: Southeast High-Speed Rail Corridor, from report mentioned above