11/06/08 — Officials planning next step for depot

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Officials planning next step for depot

By Anessa Myers
Published in News on November 6, 2008 1:46 PM

As stabilization on Goldsboro's Union Station progresses, discussions continue on whether the facility will be used for a commuter or a passenger rail.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation bought the facility and grounds about a year ago and entered into an agreement with the city of Goldsboro for both to plan the work and to pay for the renovations.

State transportation officials now say the depot will house a rail service, but that it is too early to establish plans for an exact type of rail.

"We're bullish on the near and long-time future of Union Station," said Patrick Simmons, director of the NCDOT Rail Division.

When asked if the station would have passenger or commuter rail service, he said, "It's not an either/or circumstance."

He said the department's plans for Union Station "really haven't varied" from the beginning.

"Our plans were to acquire and stabilize the property, work with the community to find funding to renovate the building and work with the local transit (bus) system," he said.

For the NCDOT, he said, the first function of the station will be to house and operate GATEWAY, the city and county's public bus system.

Rail is not out of the question, Simmons said, adding that it is going to take time to establish what the best service is going to be for the station and the tracks around it.

"We've always said rail service of any kind is on the horizon," he said. "There is no prohibition why it couldn't be used for commuter service."

And before the department decided to buy the property and to join in an agreement to rennovate it, Simmons said department officials looked at how it would connect east and west, and north and south with other rail lines.

And what they first believed to be a good plan, a commuter rail from Raleigh to Wilmington that would include Goldsboro, is still one they wish to put into place.

But more research needs to be done before any rail service operates from the station, he added.

Those questions include rail infrastructure investment as well as ridership and other factors.

"Where do you put the thing? Where is the center of economic attraction that marries well with access that makes commuter rail succeed? We've not done that kind of analysis, and that epicenter may or may not be Union Station," Simmons said.

He said what he is seeing is that there are two different types of rail service that could go through Union Station -- inter-city commuter service and regular commuter service.

The inter-city commuter service is the same as the passenger rail that President of the Wayne County Railroad Task Force Charlie Gaylor described in a previous interview as the Amtrak service.

"Inter-city commuter -- it would be places where it could connect with the national network. From Raleigh or Selma, you could go to Charlotte, or at Rocky Mount, you could connect and go as far north as Portland, Maine," Simmons said. "It's the conventional inter-city Amtrak service, if you will."

Regular commuter service is more of a "journey to work," Simmons said.

Still, he doesn't know which one would be the priority, if Goldsboro would have both at one facility.

"I don't think we know enough to say what goes first," he said. "It makes sense to provide both services to Goldsboro."

It is just a matter of figuring out all the components.

"We are at the beginning of feasibility on the service options," Simmons said. "It's how do we do both, and what's appropriate with ridership, funding and all those kinds of details."

The rail division, he said, looks for opportunity, a facility that can be used for multiple things in an area where the municipality is interested in the project and will provide financial and managerial help.

And members of that division found those factors in Goldsboro.

"I am absolutely confident that Goldsboro Union Station is going to be a successful project. We've done 14 others around the state, and we are nationally recognized for that," Simmons said. "In each case, we partnered with the community to make bona fide activity centers, and the communities have brought something to the table.

"Goldsboro looked around and saw that they had a lot of historic housing and buildings and could be part of a renovation in the community. ... You're on the map. It's good to be at the point where you can plan for these things."