12/16/04 — Railroad to Wilmington may be completed

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Railroad to Wilmington may be completed

By Matt Shaw
Published in News on December 16, 2004 1:59 PM

RALEIGH -- The state is considering reconnecting the railroad between Goldsboro and Wilmington. A transportation official said Wednesday it could pump nearly $200 million into the economy of eastern North Carolina over the next 20 years.

Patrick Simmons, director of DOT's rail division, said that the project's cost, estimated to be $81 million, would be outweighed by its benefits.

"This would open a lot of economic opportunities," both for the port of Wilmington and for businesses along the new line, Simmons told the N.C. House's committee on expanding rail service.

The committee, which is co-chaired by Rep. Louis Pate, of Mount Olive, is expected to make recommendations next month to the General Assembly on the future of passenger and freight lines.

Currently, there is no rail connection between Goldsboro and Wilmington because CSX closed the 27-mile stretch between Wallace, in southern Duplin County, and Castle Hayne, north of Wilmington, and removed the tracks. The railroad deeded the land to DOT in 1994.

This significantly hinders industries in eastern North Carolina because freight shipments through Wilmington must either be trucked or follow a circuitous route through Hamlet and Selma, Simmons said.

"It can take a four- or five-day trip to move 45 to 50 miles," he said.

It would cost nearly $50 million to restore and maintain the Wallace-Castle Hayne tracks for freight traffic over 20 years, according to DOT's analysis. It would cost more for passenger trains, which typically run at higher speeds, but Simmons did not have an estimate.

Also, another $32 million would needed in improvements to CSX-owned tracks on either side of the new lines, Simmons said.

The railroads and the N.C. Ports Authority would likely agree to share in these costs, although no formal discussions have been held, he added.

If the line were restored, the analysis projected a $196 million benefit to the counties along the railway, including Wayne and Duplin. It would also generate better than $64 million in revenues for the railline's operator, he said.

The rail connection would also relieve truck traffic through Wilmington and on connecting highways, he noted. Plus, road maintenance costs would be somewhat less, although he did not have an estimate.

Rep. Thomas Wright asked how long it would take to restore the tracks. Simmons estimated three years.

The committee has scheduled its next meeting for 1 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 11. It is expected to talk about possible passenger service between Raleigh and Wilmington, which could also need the Wallace-to-Castle Hayne lines replaced.