03/01/04 — Fight to get rail for city uphill battle

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Fight to get rail for city uphill battle

By Matt Shaw
Published in News on March 1, 2004 1:57 PM

Eastern North Carolina leaders are continuing to lobby for the restoration of passenger rail through Goldsboro, despite a strong push by some state officials to run a new Raleigh-to-Wilmington route through Fayetteville.

The Eastern North Carolina Railroad Alliance has established a Web site, www.enrra.org, that includes several articles to support improved passenger, commuter and freight rail service here.

But organizers feel they are fighting an uphill battle.

Fayetteville has N.C. Secretary of Transportation Lyndo Tippett and N.C. Sen. Tony Rand backing that city's campaign to secure the Raleigh-to-Wilmington line. Fayetteville has repeatedly tried to tie the potential rail line to such issues as military retention and higher education.

A meeting was held last month in Robeson County to emphasize the possible economic effect of tourism from railroad passengers in that region. Lumberton is on the Raleigh-Wilmington line that runs via Fayetteville.

In contrast, backers of the Goldsboro route have done little to counter this politicizing, said Sandy Korschun. "Our best efforts seem to be heavy praying."

Korschun, one of Wayne County's most vocal rail supporters, is urging people to visit the railroad alliance's Web site and add their own letters of support.

On the Web site, Goldsboro businessman Dave Quick argues that rail holds more potential for this region's future than even improved highways do.

"Eastern North Carolina will never obtain the highway system that alone is required for the economic growth and development for its citizenry to achieve the standard of living it needs," Quick said.

This part of the state does not have the influence it once did in the N.C. General Assembly, he said. Plus, all road projects here are affected by the high percentage of wetlands.

But we do have good access to the ports at Wilmington and Morehead City, he continued. All that is needed is "a way to move the cargo once it is on land that is efficient and economical. It was the reason that the North Carolina Railroad was built!"

Unfortunately, the railroad fell into disrepair and obsolescence before recent efforts to modernize it, he said.

The N.C. Department of Transportation announced in May 2001 that it was considering two routes for a new passenger train service from Raleigh to Wilmington.

Both routes begin in Raleigh and go through Selma.

The Fayetteville route would turn south there, using tracks roughly paralleling Interstate 95. The train would have stops in Dunn, Fayetteville and perhaps Parkton before arriving in Pembroke. There, the train would have to switch tracks to an east-west line now used for freight travel. The train would then have stops in Lumberton and perhaps Clarkton on its way to Wilmington.

The Fayetteville alternative would be 188 miles, following a zigzaging route from Raleigh to Wilmington.

In contrast, the Goldsboro alternative would be more than 50 miles shorter.

The train would leave Selma and follow the freight line, roughly paralleling U.S. 70 to Goldsboro. Aftering stopping here, the train would take an almost directly southern route to Wilmington. Probable stops would be in Mount Olive, Warsaw, Wallace and Burgaw en route to the port city.

The Goldsboro route would be 132 miles.

The DOT's preliminary estimates are that the Fayetteville route would attract more riders, but the Goldsboro route would be far less expensive to operate. Both routes would require expensive improvements -- a Y-shaped switch in Pembroke for the Fayetteville route, the restoration of tracks between Wallace and Castle Hayne for the Goldsboro route.

If the Legislature decides to resume service, the trains wouldn't begin running for several years.