10/10/08 — Study: Rail plan will cost county

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Study: Rail plan will cost county

By Anessa Myers
Published in News on October 10, 2008 1:46 PM

The estimated cost of infrastructure improvements, equipment and support facilities needed to provide commuter rail service from Greensboro to Goldsboro is estimated at $1 billion.

An in-depth look at the study released Thursday shows that Wayne County would have to pay part of the millions of dollars in capital costs.

Officials with the North Carolina Railroad Co. also said that Goldsboro's Union Station isn't an option for use with the commuter service as it is envisioned at this time.

The study projects that more than $35 million in capital costs would have to be paid by the county in order for it to be part of the line, but North Carolina Railroad President Scott Saylor said that the county wouldn't have to foot the entire bill.

"Typically, commuter rail projects are funded 50 percent from federal funds, 25 percent from state funds and 25 percent by local funds, typically," Saylor said. "But, we haven't studied how this would be funded," he said. "It was not a part of this study to look at funding, per se. It was an infrastructure cost study, but we broke it down by county so that people could see the costs needed for those counties."

The $35 million would include the infrastructure for the rail lines, mobilization of the trains, railroad engineering and engineering and construction management, as well as money for contingency and inflation.

The study's purpose was to determine the feasibility of operating passenger trains alongside freight trains, Saylor noted. And although the study indicates that it is possible, nothing has been planned to set the project in motion. To do that, Saylor said that people in the communities along the route that want a passenger service would need to speak up.

"We want to know what those communities along the lines think. That's very important at this stage. We do make investments, and we are making 20 to 30 plans. So if commuter rail is something that the regions want, then we need to be prepared to move in that direction," Saylor said. "For example, say we need to replace a bridge over the Neuse River and commuter rail is likely to go through there, then we may need to replace that bridge with two tracks instead of one track. But if commuter rail isn't likely, then we might build a single-track bridge. So it's real important for us to hear whether the communities are interested in it and if they have the ability to raise the funds.

"People need to let their public officials and transportation officials know, let their leaders know, if further studies are needed to bring commuter service to their area."

But don't expect the North Carolina Railroad Co. to use Goldsboro's Union Station. The old station at the corner of W. Walnut and North Carolina streets, which hasn't been used for decades, is being refurbished. The problem is, it isn't located where the state railroad could make us of it. And it sits besides tracks that belong to another railroad company, CSX Corp.

"Connecting to that station could be very expensive," Saylor said.

Kat Christian, public affairs director for the N.C. Railroad Co., said that station is "not an option, not at this point in time for us."

The company is looking more toward a North Center Street location to put the commuter rail through, she and Saylor said.

"The big thing with commuter rail is that you need a lot of parking space (where people can drop their cars off before work and pick them up from after)," Saylor said. "We have some acreage in downtown Goldsboro around that area to use for that. ... We typically try to choose the most cost effective place (to place commuter rail stations."

The reason that the old station would not be used, Ms. Christian said, is that "those aren't our tracks."

The tracks belong to CSX, which carries a lot of freight through Wayne County.

The cost to buy the station and the lines running to it would be much more than if the North Carolina Railroad built its own station, Saylor and Christian said.

But there are other issues involved with using Union Station, too, Saylor said, such as safety issues in connecting their tracks to those currently owned by CSX Corp.

"There would be some very sharp curves," he said.

Union Station is being looked at as part of a possible commuter rail line from Goldsboro to Wilmington. Still, if the N.C. Railroad Co. had a platform or a station on North Center Street, and someone wanted to take the train from Greensboro to Wilmington, there would need to be some type of transportation between that station and Union Station.

"We advised (the North Carolina Department of Transportation at the time they were looking at renovating Union Station) that it wasn't an optimal station with regard to our railroad for commuter rail," Saylor said. "I think folks do understand that there would be additional costs."

Goldsboro Planning Director Randy Guthrie said that commuter rail service would be "a great thing for eastern North Carolina and Goldsboro."

He said he hasn't yet had a chance to take a good look at the study results, but that he planned to do so this morning.

City Manager Joe Huffman said he didn't want to comment on the study or how Union Station might fit in with the commuter rail situation until he talks with N.C. Railroad Co. officials.

The 11-month study found that commuter trains and freight trains could coexist on the railroad company's tracks.

The study said new tracks, sidings and bridges along the total 141-mile long stretch of railroad line from Greensboro to Goldsboro would cost $650 million, and the equipment and support facilities for the service would cost another $350 million.

It concluded that if commuter trains could travel to and from Goldsboro and Greensboro on the railroad company's corridor, there would likely be 29 stops in seven counties, serving a total population of more than 2 million people. Eighteen colleges and universities would be within two miles of the proposed commuter trains.

The commuter service would likely go through Goldsboro's Union Station, a station that is expected to be multi-modal, including train and bus services, within the next four years.

Commuter trains typically run in the morning and afternoon rush hours and once midday over long distances, according to the study.

The railroad company, Norfolk Southern and state Dept. of Transportation have invested an estimated $60 million in recent years for straightening curves, adding tracks and making other improvements between Goldsboro and Greensboro. The groups plan to make $161 million more in improvements by 2012, with even more tracks needed.