07/13/04 — Study favors rail link for Goldsboro

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Study favors rail link for Goldsboro

By Matt Shaw
Published in News on July 13, 2004 1:57 PM

A new study shows that commuter rail service from eastern North Carolina, including Goldsboro, to Raleigh is an affordable, workable idea.

But it will take some political muscle and sweat to turn the idea to reality, a a commuter rail backer said today.

"We have lots of supporters, but we need that one person or group to champion this," said Mike Fragos, Knightdale planning director. "We're ending one phase, and we're looking for someone to push this forward."

Knightdale officials have been working for three years to rally support for Eastrans, a proposed 100-mile-long, U-shaped rail system that would connect Raleigh to Goldsboro and Wilson. The Eastern North Carolina Rail Alliance endorsed the project in 2002.

Now the project has a price tag. A study by Wilbur Smith Associates of Columbia, S.C., concludes that it would cost $126 million to build the rail system. That is far less than the cost of much shorter highway projects, Fragos noted.

It would cost an additional $4.7 million a year in operating expenses.

Although the N.C. Department of Transportation and the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization underwrote a portion of the study's cost, Eastrans does not have any commitments yet for its construction costs.

Fragos is presenting the report to various groups, trying to build momentum.

The study does not project ridership, but the trains would only have to carry 1,350 people a day -- an extremely small percentage of daily commuters -- to make it competitive for state and federal funding, he said.

The U.S. Census Bureau reported in 2000 that 3,000 Wayne County residents commute daily to the Raleigh area.

The rail system would not be intended to relieve highway congestion. Instead, it's intended to be an economic boost to eastern North Carolina, allowing people better access to higher-paying jobs, he said.

The Goldsboro-to-Raleigh line would have proposed stations in Princeton, Selma, Clayton and Garner. It's a relatively straight line owned by the N.C. Railroad Co. and would only need minor improvements.

The Raleigh-to-Wilson line would stop in Knightdale, Wendell, Zebulon, Middlesex and Bailey. Those tracks are owned by the Norfolk-Southern freight company and would need major realignment to allow faster speeds.