10/19/08 — Union Station not detoured by commuter train study

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Union Station not detoured by commuter train study

By Anessa Myers
Published in News on October 19, 2008 3:00 AM

A study by the North Carolina Railroad Co. that indicates Union Station in downtown Goldsboro, which is currently under restoration, would not be part of a commuter rail service planned by the state does not mean the project will be in vain, supporters say.

The railroad study was released earlier this month, showing a Greensboro-to-Goldsboro route. But state railroad officials said the refurbished Union Station, which sits alongside the tracks of another railroad line, will not be part of the commuter service.

Union Station, which hasn't been used in decades, sits on CSX Railroad lines, which are currently used for freight. Charlie Gaylor, president of the Wayne County Railroad Task Force, said the restoration of the station was never intended to be part of any commuter rail service that would run on the state railroad line.

Commuter rail service is different from regular passenger rail service, Gaylor said. Commuter rail runs the same quick route over and over. Passenger rail service, which Union Station once served, is intended to carry passengers on longer journeys.

What county and city residents need to understand, though, is that "commuter rail service and passenger rail service are two very different things," Gaylor said.

"They (commuter railroads) need the shortest distance in a straight line from one point to another," Gaylor said.

Even the types of train cars used for each service are different, Gaylor said, with the commuter train cars built lighter than those used for passenger rail, he added.

The Goldsboro project was never intended to be part of the state's commuter plans, he said.

"Our focus was getting passenger rail service through there all along," Gaylor said last week.

The discussions of a passenger rail service -- or in Union Station's case, Amtrak service -- started when the state Department of Transportation released a study in 2005 saying it was feasible for the service to run from Raleigh to Wilmington.

The question then became, will the service go through Fayetteville or will it go through Goldsboro?

That's when the county railroad task force formed, as community leaders hoped that a showing of leadership from the community would be helpful to getting the service to go through Goldsboro, Gaylor said.

It was only after that that the N.C. Railroad Co. came into the picture, talking about commuter rail service, he said.

And when the study results came out earlier this month about the feasibility of the commuter rail going back and forth between Greensboro and Goldsboro, serving more than 2 million people along the way, he said he wasn't surprised.

"We could have two services running through Goldsboro," Gaylor said.

And if both would run through the city, Downtown Goldsboro Development Corp. Director Julie Thompson said that she didn't see why the N.C. Railroad Co. and CSX wouldn't work together to make a connection between the stations.

Gaylor said he assumes there would have to be some connection also, either with bus service or a service provided by the two companies.

"I would think they would do what is economically smart for both of them, and I think this would be," Gaylor said.

But, Gaylor said, both projects are still in early stages.

"What people don't get is that the studies say that this is all feasible for Goldsboro," Gaylor said. "That's a great thing."

Another great part about the passenger rail service that will likely go through Union Station, Gaylor said, is that people can go anywhere in the country that Amtrak serves.

The 11-month study released Oct. 9 by the N.C. Railroad Co. 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. Eighteen colleges and universities would be within two miles of the proposed commuter trains. Commuter trains typically run in the morning and afternoon rush hours and once midday over long distances, according to the study.

The N.C. Railroad Co., Norfolk Southern and state Department of Transpor-tation 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.