08/31/04 — Decision on rail route expected in October

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Decision on rail route expected in October

By Matt Shaw
Published in News on August 31, 2004 2:00 PM

The Department of Transportation is expected to decide by October whether the Raleigh-to-Wilmington passenger rail route should go through Fayetteville or Goldsboro.

N.C. Transportation Secretary Lyndo Tippett will make a decision within 30 to 45 days on which route to recommend, DOT spokeswoman Joan Bagherpour said Monday.

She was uncertain whether the state Board of Transportation would review Tippett's choice before it goes to the N.C. General Assembly for possible funding.

A decision on the rail route has been pending since May 2001. That's when DOT announced it was considering restoring passenger rail service to Wilmington, either via Fayetteville or Goldsboro.

DOT has been working on a final analysis of the two options, including total start-up and annual costs, ridership estimates, and cost-benefits of enhanced freight service. That study has reportedly been completed, although not yet made public.

Wayne County officials have been wary of Tippett's decision because he lives in Fayetteville. Members of the Wayne County Railroad Task Force could not be reached for comment today.

The decision may not have an effect for years. The state's budget crunch in recent years has halted a similar passenger rail project in western North Carolina that was started several years earlier.

Since 1999, the state has been considering restoring passenger rail service to Wilmington. The initial plan was on a connection to Charlotte, but surveys in the Wilmington area showed greater interest in a route to Raleigh and also connection to Amtrak's trains to the northeastern United States.

DOT has since concentrated on two possible routes, one that goes through Goldsboro and the other through Fayetteville.

The Goldsboro route is the more direct route, around 132 miles. It would have stops in Selma, Warsaw and other locations. The Fayetteville route is more than 50 miles longer. It would include stops in Navassa, Lumberton, Pembroke, Fayetteville and Selma.

A preliminary study estimated that the Goldsboro option would attract 39,700 riders a year, including 8,200 people connecting to Amtrak routes and traveling outside North Carolina. The Fayetteville route was projected to have 43,700 riders a year, including 9,000 people connecting to Amtrak routes.