High-Speed Rail North Carolina Richmond Triangle NC

Southeast High-Speed Rail Releases Detailed Proposals for Raleigh-Richmond Corridor

» Project would halve travel time between the two state capitals, but it’s not yet an extension of the Northeast Corridor towards the south.

Yesterday, the Southeast High-Speed Rail Corridor planning group (SEHSR) — a project run by the North Carolina Department of Transportation in association with the State of Virginia — released its draft environmental impact study (DEIS) for the 162-mile Raleigh-Richmond passenger rail route. The DEIS will undergo public review over the next two months in preparation for an eventual grant submission to the Federal Railroad Administration for up to three billion dollars to pursue the completion of this project over the next decade.

SEHSR is not proposing true high-speed rail: its trains will be limited to 110 mph, be powered by diesel locomotives, and be limited to single tracks along several route segments. But the project is nonetheless quite ambitious. Whereas current Amtrak service between the two capitals takes almost four hours, this project would reduce travel times to two hours by rerouting trains onto a more direct route and speeding travel. Whereas current service averages around 47 mph, the proposal would allow average speeds of 86 mph, a vast improvement.

If fully implemented, the states would offer four daily round trips between Raleigh and Washington, D.C. along the corridor. A final decision about exact route choices will be made next year.

Neither the Federal Railroad Administration nor the States of North Carolina or Virginia have yet committed significant funding to the completion of this project, though the two states did receive a total of $620 million from Washington in January thanks to the ARRA stimulus bill. Those funds will allow the construction of a third track between Richmond and Washington, D.C. and allow North Carolina to increase speeds to 90 mph between Raleigh and Charlotte, the state’s largest city.

SEHSR’s long-term plans would reduce travel times along the 450-mile route between Charlotte and Washington to between 6h10 and 6h50, down from 9h40 on the Carolinian today (though the Crescent runs a separate route in 8h07). The primary time savings in the medium-term would come from the implementation of this Raleigh to Richmond corridor. A direct route between Raleigh and Charlotte (trains between the cities now take an round-about route to serve Durham and Greensboro), long mentioned as a possibility to speed trains to Atlanta, would be similarly effective, but that project is far off.

Today, Amtrak Carolinian trains travel along a circuitous route through Rocky Mount, North Carolina between Raleigh and Richmond. In this study, SEHSR has proposed moving most of those trains to the 35-mile-shorter CSX-owned alignment that parallels U.S. 1. The states hope to reach agreement with the freight rail company to increase speeds to 110 mph by eliminating all grade crossings along the route (requiring the closing or bridging of more than 100 crossings) and by including five-mile siding tracks every ten miles along the single-track corridor.

This closing of the corridor to vehicle traffic would increase safety and allow for the eventual conversion to electric locomotion if warranted. The report states that “The current designs will not preclude conversion to electricity in the future, thus allowing higher speeds.” Such an investment would basically mean the extension of the Northeast Corridor south from Washington — and indeed, Amtrak President Joseph Boardman suggested last year that electrification from Washington to Richmond was one of his top priorities. That possibility, however, remains far in the future; it’s not included in the funding estimates here. And though this more limited proposal has merit, it is in competition with dozens of other proposals from around the country, so it has no guarantee of being funded anytime soon.

Even if funded, the SEHSR project does face a number of additional obstacles. In other states, CSX has proven to be a mediocre partner; after weeks of negotiations, the company finally agreed to let New York State use its corridor between Albany and Buffalo for new rail service, but it has yet to endorse the 110 mph trains that the state wants. Similarly, CSX demanded a large insurance policy from the State of Florida for the construction of the Orlando-area Sunrail line. Will North Carolina and Virginia be manhandled similarly?

Meanwhile, there are a number of alternative route alignments for this corridor that could pit local interests against statewide needs. In downtown Raleigh, two separate corridors are being considered; one would cost far more but the other may produce too much damage to a growing center city.

In recent years, though, both of these Mid-Atlantic states have been good custodians of their intercity rail networks; they’re likely to see this project through eventually. That is, as long as the federal government reaffirms its commitment to rail through continued annual appropriations, no sure thing in these cutback-ridden times.

Image above: Route options for Raleigh-Richmond Corridor of Southeast High-Speed Rail, from SEHSR

57 replies on “Southeast High-Speed Rail Releases Detailed Proposals for Raleigh-Richmond Corridor”

Nice writeup.

I’m curious, will the NEC extension to Richmond and the NC/VA upgrades utilize Richmond-Main Street or Richmond-Staples Mill Road? I would really love to see more trains serve downtown Richmond.


From the NEC Master Plan:

. . . a  series  of  improvements  to  separate  freight  and  intercity  movements  at  Acca Yard, including bypass tracks around the yard and a new passenger rail yard near Brown Street.    Construction  of  the  bypass  tracks  will  allow  intercity  routes  to  access  Main  Street Station  (at  45  mph  versus  15  mph)  and  better  serve  Hampton  Roads  and  southern Virginia/North  Carolina  regions.    A  new  suburban  Richmond  station  at  Parham  Road, with expanded parking and station facilities, will replace the Staples Mill Road Station.

I believe that a vast majority of the “S” line from Raleigh to Petersburg is abandoned right of way. While still belonging to CSX, one would hope that they wouldn’t impose undue restrictions on HSR given that they would presumably have some use of the line if it were to be reactivated by the SEHSR.

The North Carolina request for ARRA money for this segment included money to acquire the RoW from CSX (CSX would retain some trackage rights). Whether that’s still the plan, I don’t know.

The Virginia plans for the DC to Richmond corridor calls for a major upgrade of the Richmond Main Street station to four tracks (IIRC) and routing all trains going to Richmond or further south to stopping at the downtown Main Street station. The plan calls for a Acca yard bypass to get around the yard bottleneck along with a 3rd track from DC to Richmond to reduce the current DC to Richmond Main street station travel times by around 45 minutes. The plans also call for replacing the Staples Mill Road station with a new suburban station at Parham Road.

VA and NC over the past decade or longer have been steadily plugging away at studies and planning for upgrades to the current passenger train system. I wish the plans were more ambitious, calling for an electrified true high speed train line running from DC all the way to Atlanta, connecting the cities of the eastern seaboard. Call the entire line the Eastern Corridor.

But, if VA and NC can get the funding, their current plans will greatly improve the entire DC to Charlotte, NC route and lay the foundation for a someday HSR line from DC to Atlanta. The biggest problem may be the rather twisty and heavy freight traffic RF&P line from DC to Richmond. Really might be better off acquiring a new dedicated passenger ROW for much of that route for the long term.

We need a dedicated fund or long term authorization for Amtrak to begin buying underutilized stretches from the freight operators. Raleigh-Richmond for one, Kalamazoo-Detroit another. Then maybe acquire new ROW to move passenger trains off shared tracks in the future. Having more Amtrak-owned tracks for passenger train use would actually delight the freights because they would benefit from the added freight capacity. But I guess in the current climate of extremism, more dedicated passenger routes would be denounced as ‘Socialism” or something.

A new dedicated passenger ROW won’t be cheap. A few years ago, NCPC did a study on a DC freight rail bypass, in part due to security concerns with HAZMAT traveling by rail through the city core. Several alternatives were considered, with three “viable” alternatives further studied. One of them would allow for near-exclusive use of the existing tracks for passenger rail between DC and Fredericksburg. Unfortunately, the cheapest alternative is still close to $4 billion (in 2007 dollars, so likely higher now) in cost, in no small part because the alternatives require either tunneling under or bridging over the Potomac.

As I understood it, we’re gonna see new tunnels in D.C. and/or bridges over the Potomac before we see too many more trains heading south from Union Station. A few years ago, maybe related to the study you cite, the Virginia DOT site had a long-range plan for bringing the NorthEast Corridor to Richmond, with branches to Hampton Roads. Billions. Several billions. I can’t find that plan online now, but it seems the state has been following it pretty closely. It was nice incremental steps, and every multibillion step reduced delays and speeded up the timetable, or allowed adding another frequency to Richmond and more capacity for the commuter trains. Down the line it included electrification, and iirc at about that point they punted, noting that to get more trains out of the congested Union Station would require tunneling and bridge building and billion, beyond the range of the State of Virginia. This may explain why they only plan to run four new trains on this D.C.-Richmond-Raleigh-Charlotte route.

Bridges over the Potomac. The tunnel south from Union Station isn’t considered a significant bottleneck; the trackage from there to the Potomac is being expanded to three tracks, which will be sufficient for quite a long time.

But a new Long Bridge over the Potomac will be necessary; this is the bottleneck now.

I think it’s a bit unfair to characterize CSX as a mediocre partner. CSX has to be very sure that it’s long term interests are being looked after. I would characterize the FRA and the states as “unfair to CSX” if they didn’t make CSX whole as part of this whole process. CSX should not have to give up any line capacity, nor assume any additional risk, or at least be fully compensated (cost plus profit margin) for any deal involving their private property and operating rights. CSX is under no legal obligation to be a partner at all. (other than for existing Amtrak service on their lines)

That they have struck a new deal with NY after NY unilaterally tried to change the terms of the deal speaks well towards CSX’s civic mindedness.

Without the federal grant of eminent domain to RR’s in the 1800’s they would barely exist and have significantly less economic value. Until 1971, the freight rail operators were mandated to provide passenger service. They got out of that obligation when Amtrak was created, but they are still required to accomodate the passenger trains operated by Amtrak. Unfortunately the government has typically been very weak in negotiating with them and reminding them of thier obligations. The elimination of double-tracks and alternate routes have also severely restricted capacity and strengthened the argument against allowing passenger service – not to mention degrading its performance. CSX is a private company but they frequently overplay their hand. That may be good for shareholders and I don’t fault them as a company pursuing their interests, but I’m dissapointed that gov’t – like the FL legislature – let’s them get away with it at public expense.

The elimination of alternate routes, double track, etc., is a good chunk of what saved the whole frt RR network from oblivion in the 70s and 80s. Without being able to match the physical plant to the traffic base, the whole industry would have gone belly up – and Amtrak would have had no place to run.

A little known or believed secret is that the Amtrak trains do not pay their whole way on the frt roads. The RRs were in such a tight bind in 1971, that they took a lousy deal because it was better than no deal at all.

The line in NY was owned by the federal government as recently as 15 years ago — heard of Conrail? — thanks to the government bailing out bankrupt railroads (by taking all their railroad assets away and leaving them with their ‘holding company’ assets).

Then it was sold off to be carved up by NS and CSX. Privatization run amok. Taxpayer loses, AGAIN.

It’s time to tell CSX to shut up. The federal government needs to take vital passenger lines by eminent domain and leave the freights with trackage rights, period.

I don’t see why Amtrak can’t out right buy the S Line from CSX in that CSX closed it down in the 1970’s and 1980’s and it’s been sitting their abandoned. Also CSX would benfit from getting rid of a dead rail bed and it would help get rid of the Amtrak trains on it’s other mainline.

Only the Virginia section — Collier to Norlina — is actually abandoned. The section from Norlina to Raleigh is still (barely) active and there are industrial customers along that section of the line that CSX still occasionally services. CSX did offer the Collier to Norlina section to Amtrak when it was abandoned, but Amtrak refused it.

Amtrak has had a serious shortage of money. It hasn’t bought many tracks since the Conrail legislation (which gave it the NEC and IIRC the Michigan line); I think it bought the crucial connecting tracks near Albany later, but those are both very minor and absolutely unavoidable for vital passenger services.

SEHSR does plan to buy the entire S line from Raleigh to Petersburg as far as I can tell, leaving CSX trackage rights only.

Fact check:

Conrail’s assets were never “goverment owned”. 90% of Conrail stock was held by the Sec. of Tranportation and the other 10% by the employees.

The assets were purchased from the bankrupt owners at $6/line foot – which was less than scrap value.

Conrail’s land and income were taxed like every other private corporation.

The government’s 90% share was sold in what was the largest IPO at the time. The gov’t was paid back for their initial investment.

The sale of Conrail to NS and CSX did not involve or cost the government a dime.

A good view of Conrail’s (and Amtrak’s) history can be found in Rush Loving’s book, “The Men Who Loved Trains.”

Fact check:

Conrail’s assets were never “goverment owned”. 90% of Conrail stock was held by the Sec. of Tranportation

In other words, it was government owned. You contradict yourself.

And for reference, Conrail’s IPO was exactly the problem. The government is going to end up buying the lines back and losing money in the process. If it had had the sense to keep the strategically important lines in government ownership prior to the IPO, that would have been sensible.

Once you get average speeds of 80+mph, then the train is generally quicker than car (particularly for journeys either to or from the city centre) and rail’s mode share will significantly increase.

Are the new segments of track to be built for higher eventual speeds, like if they get electrified in the future? AFAIK, price tag of brand-new ROW in hilly terrain doesn’t change much in 100-155 mph territory.

The program calls for potential curve modification in the future, but not in the present. I have no idea what the planned curve radius is, and I don’t want to find out because it’s going to make me too angry. Somehow I don’t feel like the line is going to get ICE-TD levels of superelevation or cant deficiency.

Bear in mind that it’s not on brand-new ROW; it’s on an abandoned freight ROW, which is to be used for a passenger-dedicated line. That’s why the projected cost is so low.


There are several alternative alignments. They, for the most part, follow the existing RoW. But some of them depart fairly widely from the existing RoW in order to bypass curves. Each departure has a tradeoff, either in construction costs or RoW acquisition or wetland impact or . . .. There will be freight permitted on the line. So there will be maxima of 5″ actual superelevation and 4″ of unbalanced superelevation on those curves which aren’t bypassed.

Ignoring the approach into Raleigh, there’s only one section, a 5 to 6 mile segment just south of Petersburg, where all alternatives have limiting speed (speed through the tightest curve) under 80mph. They haven’t done as bad a job as you fear.

For the life of me I can’t find anything in the EIS that specifies the superelevation that is used for this design.

Most curves on the line are designed for a maximum speed of 110mph with non-tilting trainsets (whether that means 4″ or 5″ superelevation, and 4″ or 5″ unbalance, I am not sure.) Assuming the more conservative 8″ total unbalance. That means curves would be 1.05 degrees. Taking instead 10″ total unbalance, that would be 1.18 degrees.

Say that at some date in the future, the line is electrified, all freights are removed, and the FRA permits modern light tilting trains to operate on it. Such trains can certainly operate with up to 9 inches of unbalance, and with freight gone let’s say actual superelevation is increased to 7 inches for an actual plus unbalance of 16 inches. If the curves are 1.05 degrees, that would be a top speed of about 150mph. It’s no TGV, but there is definitely possibility for growth.

4″ is exactly as bad as I feared. On modern upgraded lines running at medium speed, 6″ is safe for non-tilting trains.

Conversely, freight trains have a safe cant excess of 3-4″, except at very low curve radius. With 6″ cant deficiency, 7″ of cant would reduce the minimum curve radius for 110 mph operation to 1,110 meters, with a 61 mph minimum speed to limit cant excess to 3″. If cant were restricted to 6″ on wide curves then the minimum speed would be 55 mph, and curve radius would be 1,220 meters. In contrast, the proposed cant and cant deficiency values require 1,600-meter curves. (These are minimum values; for recommended values, multiply all numbers by some constant factor.)

The difference is not that big, but it’s still there.

3-4″ cant excess of heavy trains decimate track geometry even when there’s single freight per 10 passenger trains going with 4″ cant deficiency.

I really do applaud this move, though it may not seem so. I’m afraid that I don’t have much to add factually or even constructively to this thread. The comments made thus far seem well-informed and very beneficial, as are most comments that appear on Yonah’s blogs.
Having grown up outside Charlotte, and spending the majority of my professional life to date in the Atlanta area, I am keenly interested in these developments. I am a huge fan of the Carolinas and likewise, I want to see Atlanta develop back into the passenger rail hub that it once was. But, like Yonah, I am now fortunate enough to be based in Paris. Here, we are constantly exposed to what should already exist along this corridor. I understand the reasons that we are so, so far behind, but the measures described here seem, well I really hate to say it, but rather pathetic, when taken from a European context. There is no way to say this without sounding condescending; but the very idea that even after the improvements are made, some of this main-line will still be single-tracked just doesn’t strike me as serious at all.
Yes, we are in the midst of an economic crisis, which I really do hope we are in recovery mode; and yes our country is steeped in debt, there is oil spewing uncontrollably in the Gulf, and we are being told over and over again what we CANNOT afford to do. But, are we ready to just quit?
We should be looking further down the road the road, when real high speed rail is part of our way-of-life; when American passengers can indifferently glance out large windows at the landscape streaking by at what is equivalent to a 747’s takeoff speed, and then peacefully return to our nap, just as I watch the French do in boyish amazement. Seeing this along the Southeast corridor and elsewhere in the US will require an effort and commitment of the same magnitude as was required to build Eisenhower’s Interstate system.
Despite what I’ve just said, the developments announced yesterday are important. To have a true high speed rail system which works well for those along or adjacent to the corridor, there needs to be a back-up conventional rail network to fill in the gaps while the high speed segment system is being developed, and to augment the completed system. That’s what this should become. However, please do not refer to this as high-speed rail. Even after the improvements announced are made, the average speeds attained, will be considerably less than what is generally achieved by conventional European rail.
It is time to start dreaming again; and building again.

I followed this S line on google street view and was shocked at how many highway overpasses were still left over for it in good shape. Such as even some of the lesser two lane back roads had two lane wide overpasses for them to go over the rail line. Also you see cases were they built bran new overpasses to carry newer roads that were built after the rail line was abondoned. I’m glad they are thinking about restoring it becouse it is perfectly grandfathered in for them with all the 1930’s and 1950’s overpasses waiting to have trains go under them again.

Here is a youtube video of what the new high speed rail line could look like from Richmond to Washington DC I hope they use NEC type catenary on the new rail line

Ocean Railroader,
Forgive me; I’m a southeasterner and I haven’t actually seen or experienced Acela for myself. I have experienced the French TGV a number of times. What is with the high mounted transmission lines well above the cantanary lines that show in the video that you linked. That certainly does not exist on the French LGV infrastructure, and I hope that it won’t be required for HSR expansion in the US. I’m not a transportation/electrical engineer, although I’m hoping to learn more about this as soon as my French has developed to the point that I can enroll in the French Universities. Maybe I’ll learn something then…

The Pennsyvinia syile catenary mast high transmission lines were built by the Pennsyvinia Railroad to carry it’s own suppy of 138Kv 25Hz eletric power to substations along the line to step it down to 12Kv for the trains. This system alows the railroad to run on it’s own away from the main grid so if the main grid fails it won’t. The grid power also runs at 60Hz while the NEC uses 25Hz power for the trains. What I hope that they are able to do is add a new power feed from Virginia Power to help lower the costs of buying power the northern power companies and the cheaper power could be sent up the catenary masts up north.The high voltage catenary masts would alow the new high speed rail lines to cross over vast rural areas were there are no existing power lines and substations.

Also the the high voltage catenary masts also give it a different look then Europe that is unquely US. While the French TGV look unquely French.

Roughly $2.5 billion? I missed any total in the Executive Summary, so I rounded off the estimated costs of the three alternatives in Sections A thru U to the nearest $25 million and did a running total in my head. Not an exact figure, but order of magnitude. That lets us compare, for example, with 3-Cs total of $1.5 billion. Maybe better population figures on the 3-Cs, but because of the NEC, better connectivity for Raleigh-Richmond. (Nothing about equipment costs on R-R route.),

I’ll bet this will be another line to outrun the careful traffic studies. Nothing wrong with that, but they’ll need more trains sooner than they think. The report says four a day. Not entirely clear if that means four total, or four new corridor trains PLUS the two existing Amtraks through Raleigh, the Carolinian to Charlotte and the Silver Star to Florida.

Higher speed on the Richmond-Raleigh stretch could really help the timetable on the existing Amtrak trains. Cut 2 hours out of R-R and the Carolinian won’t have to leave NYC so g.d. early (7:05 a.m.). Find another hour along the way and it can get you back to Charlotte before the kids go to bed, instead of the currently scheduled 8:15 p.m. The Silver Star could arrive in Raleigh by 7:13 p.m. instead of 9:13 as now. Maybe better to leave Penn Station after lunch (now departs 10:50), or the Jacksonville arrival, now 6:55 the next morning would become pre-dawn. What nice scheduling problems to deal with!

Ack! So many good projects, so little funds!

About $2.1B by my addition. But I think this is just the civil engineering costs. It doesn’t include laying track or signaling or PTC. The ARRA request for this segment was for $3.7B. It included buying the RoW from CSX and acquiring rolling stock, too. There’s supposed to be an MOU from 1997 between CSX and NCDOT laying out the procedures for NC to acquire the RoW from CSX: how appraisal will be done, what trackage rights CSX would retain etc. But the MOU has never been scanned in, so I don’t know what precisely it says. And, of course, NC doesn’t have to acquire the RoW (but if it wants to run at 110 mph, it’d better).

Four new corridor trains (Washington-Charlotte) are the SEHSR plan plus Amtrak will reroute the Carolinian and the Silver Star.

“Higher speed on the Richmond-Raleigh stretch could really help the timetable on the existing Amtrak trains. Cut 2 hours out of R-R and the Carolinian won’t have to leave NYC so g.d. early (7:05 a.m.). Find another hour along the way…”
The Virginia plans for the the DC to Richmond corridor are to reduce the travel times by 45 minutes from DC Union station to the Richmond Main street station. Only the Amtrak regionals go to Hampton Roads use the Main street station, so the saving for the current trains going south of Richmond will probably be only 30+ minutes once they add the new stop at Richmond Main Street. But, say in 10 years, the NEC from NYP to WAS is 10-15 minutes faster for the non-Acela trains, WAS to Richmond is 30-45 minutes faster, Richmond to Raleigh is 2 hours faster, yes, it will should add enough ridership to add more daily Carolinians going to NYP, but should also open the way for daily Atlanta to DC trains. Or even a day time Atlanta to NYP train, if GA and SC are willing to work on a faster Atlanta to Charlotte route.

Obviously shorter trips attract more riders. Then cutting even 2 or 3 hours from a schedule like D.C.-Charlotte can really help the departure and arrival times. (I’m not “a morning person” and that 7:05 a.m. out of Penn Station is not “user friendly” to me, and I’m sure I’m not alone in that feeling.)

There’s another point lurking here but I dunno nothing. Some large part of Amtrak’s operating costs on each train is crew time. (If I recall, Bruce McF said 80% crew, 20% fuel, but I could have that garbled.) I have no idea how the onboard employees are paid, by the shift, half shift minimum, hourly overtime, or whatever. But even on a LD train like the Silver Star, NYC-Miami, cutting 2 or 3 hours of paid time from each run should help cut costs while revenues are going up. No? Anyone here have info on that?

Amtrak’s fuel consumption is, on average, 2.4 gallons per mile. That’s $5/mile at the prices Amtrak is paying. At an average speed of about 50 mph, this is $250 per service hour. If Amtrak’s crewing cost is really $1,000 per service hour, it needs to be privatized immediately. With one driver and one conductor, both well-compensated, it should be about $150 per hour. Add a few assistant conductors and deadheading and it should still be under $500/hour.

The Crescent’s route is a lot more desirable for getting from DC to Charlotte and Atlanta for practical intents, but much less so for political considerations since it misses the state capitols. CSX and NYS are both mediocre partners. I mean, NYS is the only state, AFAIK, that taxes railroads by track mile…why penalize RR’s for building or maintaining extra track? As for Europe, one shouldn’t take their system out of context. they developed a more conventional system first, and continually upgraded it over time. The same idea is being applied here, of building a ridership base at cheaper, more conventional speeds before embarking on large scale projects. CSX hasa already balked at electrification so maybe it’s time to explore the option with NS along the crescent corridor. Or maybe it’s time to begin looking at a PPP with the freights for full on electrification so that it’s more beneficial for freight AND passenger operations.

I mean, NYS is the only state, AFAIK, that taxes railroads by track mile…why penalize RR’s for building or maintaining extra track?

Oy, don’t get me started. Lots of states *used* to do this, but only NYS has failed to update its laws for the last 100 years. Side effect of a totally dysfunctional legislature.

Only way to work around it is to transfer the track to a not-for-profit or government agency (tax-exempt) and lease trackage rights back. Which is actually a pretty good idea anyway….

Actually, it’s happened to pretty much all the surviving secondary lines in NY; they’re nearly all government-owned with various forms of leases and trackage rights assignments to the freight haulers. You can see it on the official NYS rail map.

Apparently CSX thinks that control is worth the extra taxation on the mainline.

Yes. NS and CP, too. The rusty streaks of shortlines hardly matter who owns the track. They don’t go anywhere useful w.r.t. passenger operations.

The Crescent is a better route D.C.-Atlanta, true. But we are a long long way from having trains fast enough to get enough passengers going that whole distance to justify more than one additional daily train.

The chosen route not only links capital cities, it also puts many city-pair corridors end to end: D.C.-Richmond, Richmond-Raleigh, Raleigh-Greensboro, Greensboro-Charlotte. Even if no one at all rides the whole way from D.C. to Charlotte, the population of these city pairs should make the line successful.

I can see pushing a D.C-Charlottesville-Lynchburg train on down Danbury-Greensboro-Charlotte, especially because the Crescent passes through in the dark. But none of the smaller Crescent route cities come close to the potential of the cities on the route chosen.

Don’t forget that there are people in Raleigh, Henderson, South Hill, and Richmond who want in on the service too.

When I mention towns like Henderson and South Hill, of course I am assuming conventional passenger service alongside intercity high-speed. Don’t discount South Hill though, with its 25-mile radial population of between 60 and 70 thousand, not to mention those who’d be coming from further west to pick up trains into the NEC.

What I can’t figure out is — we have Amtrak running along every portion of the new Southeast Corridor from Washington, D.C. to Atlanta EXCEPT from Petersburg to Raleigh. Why not build Petersburg to Norlina (this is the actual abandoned portion of the old Seaboard Air Line) according to high-speed specifications, bring Norlina to Raleigh back up to par, and go ahead and dub it the Southeast Corridor? Higher speed can wait, if need be. We need conventional service between D.C. and Atlanta now.

What you propose is the actual plan.

Well… plus one bit. You currently can’t get from Petersburg to Richmond Main St. That connection would be restored.

Well, Nathanael, I’m trying to make a finer point. Please read the following two paragraphs. Norlina to Raleigh could even now host Amtrak trains at conventional speeds if some TLC were applied to the track. CSX is already running unit trains of woodchips along the line at pretty good speeds. This corridor used to host Amtrak trains. Petersburg to Main Street Station is fully intact, but Amtrak doesn’t route trains that way at this point. They opt for a parallel corridor. Get Petersburg to Norlina up and running, and refurbish Norlina to Raleigh, and we’d have Southeast Regional Service from D.C. to Richmond, Raleigh, Charlotte, and Atlanta at conventional speed from D.C. to Richmond and Petersburg, higher-speed from Petersburg to Norlina, conventional speed from Norlina to Raleigh, conventional speed from Raleigh to Charlotte (although NCDOT is working feverishly to bring this into the higher-speed category), and conventional speed from Charlotte to Atlanta. Do you see how Petersburg to Raleigh is really the one crucial link?

It seems many news writers are writing articles titled basically, “High Speed Rail: Yay or Nay?” What I’m saying is: let’s compromise for now. Since Petersburg to Norlina is abandoned, let’s build it according to the specifications of the SEHSR Corridor as soon as the environmental and engineering studies are complete. Let’s massage Norlina to Raleigh a little bit but not necessarily worry about re-working track just yet… and we can do that same maintenance from Petersburg to Main Street Station if that’s what’s needed. But as to everything else, let the corridor stand as is for now, and let’s think about bringing it up to higher speed as funding becomes available, since funding seems to be the lynchpin issue at this point, and understandably so. Check out NC’s incremental projects between Raleigh to Charlotte as they bring the NCRR up to higher-speeds. This, I think, at this point is the ideal. I’m afraid people and politicians are going to keep posing the question “High Speed Rail in the Southeast: Yay or Nay?” I’m saying, “Forget that question for now. Compromise and build Petersburg to Norlina according to the new specs, and get a conventional Amtrak Southeast Regional Service up and going!” And, by the way, station-stops in South Hill and Henderson would be greatly appreciated. Check out and for updates.

” Get Petersburg to Norlina up and running, and refurbish Norlina to Raleigh,”

That is, in actual fact, the plan. That’s my point. I’ve read the SEHSR documents. If you read them, you’ll see that that’s the plan.

Haha. Yes. I do read them some. I know you read them too. But tell me: Is the plan elastic enough to forego re-configuring the trackage between Norlina and Raleigh for right now if funding were to be an issue? I mean, I’d be fine with either scenario: reconfigure tracks for higher speeds (110 MPH) between Norlina and Raleigh, or merely refurbish the old SAL corridor, as is, in order to allow for conventional service (79MPH) now. Are you saying that a “merely refurbish” line of thinking is part of the current plan? When I look at the proposed track configurations available on, I see track reconfiguring at Ridgeway, at Middleburg, in Raleigh, all to accommodate 110MPH. Are you saying they’d be willing to say “the old SAL from Norlina to Raleigh, once refurbished, is fine, as is, for now.”? My main point is just “Please, let’s get Petersburg to Norlina up and running.”

“Is the plan elastic enough to forego re-configuring the trackage between Norlina and Raleigh for right now if funding were to be an issue?”

*sigh*. The problem with that idea is kind of complicated and political, and I can explain it.

From Norlina to the border of Raleigh, the track is poorly maintained and needs to be upgraded to supoort “decent speeds” (it’s currently got a really low speed limit). But there you could forego the suggested realignments, temporarily, and just refurbish it — the plan is flexible enough for that.

But within Raleigh, the problems are different.

CSX and NS *will not host* the train on the final stretch between their big freight yards and the Boylan Wye unless additional tracks are built; they want to move slow local freight trains around on the existing tracks and complain about track capacity. So you *have* to build the additional “passenger only” tracks through downtown Raleigh in order to appease the Class I freight-hauling railroads.

You could probably avoid building the new “HSR” platform immediately, and use the Amtrak platform which is being built as part of the new Raleigh Station project, since that would still keep the passenger trains out of the way of the freights.

Of course, it’s the part within Raleigh which is expensive. The Ridgeway and Middleburg changes are cheap.

Is that a sufficiently accurate answer?

Yes, that makes sense. For my part, I really believe the best way to go IS to work the complete realignment between Richmond and Raleigh, including an Acca Yard bypass in Richmond. I just want to see the service up and running as soon as possible. I’m content with conventional speed on the RF&P, the NCRR, and NS south of Charlotte. I really do hope the Richmond to Raleigh stretch will catch the next round of funding, whether it be public or, in some sense, private. I’m from the South Hill area, with it’s 25 mile radial population of 60-70K. I live in NYC, and in the future I may be travelling to destinations in Cary and Winston-Salem. I some done commutes to Greenville, SC during the past ten years. All this is just another example of how a regional municipal-arc has developed from D.C. to Atlanta. I hope we get Amtrak back through South Hill again soon.

Nathanael, I don’t mean to sound as if I’m arguing. I am asking you the technical question above. Please tell me what you know.

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