10/11/09 — State: Not clear when Union Station will have rail

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State: Not clear when Union Station will have rail

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on October 11, 2009 2:00 AM

Top officials from the North Carolina Department of Transportation Rail Division were in Goldsboro Friday to discuss the Union Station project with members of the City Council and Downtown Goldsboro Development Corp.

But while they came with good news regarding the status of rehabilitation efforts at the city landmark, they were uncertain about the prospect of bringing commuter rail and intercity passenger train service to the city anytime soon.

During the hour-long meeting, Allan Paul, director of operations and facilities for the Rail Division, showed those in attendance how Goldsboro routes fit into NCDOT's overall rail plan for the state.

He began by talking about the history of trains in the city -- how past leaders created a future for their use here.

"Shakespeare said once upon a time, 'The past is prologue,'" Paul said. "Well, your community has been blessed with visionary leaders since the mid-1800s."

He reference the construction of Union Station and a set of tracks that bypassed downtown -- two features that will set the city up nicely for both commuter rail and intercity passenger service if state plans come to fruition in the future.

He then presented slides that outlined, in motion, how trains would move in and around the city.

Some members of the DGDC and council laughed and smiled when the "train" showed up on the screen and began moving around the "tracks."

But they raised questions later when Paul and Rail Division director Patrick Simmons came across as noncommittal on a timetable for such a reality.

"When do you actually think the first trains will arrive at the station," Mayor Pro Tem Chuck Allen asked.

"I don't know," Simmons replied.

"But just in theory, are we talking 10 years, 15 years?" Allen then asked. "What's your best guess?"

"How about I don't guess. How about I tell you where we are," Simmons said. "Aug. 24, we put in an application to the federal government for funds to do ... the engineering and environmental work necessary to connect Raleigh to Wilmington through Fayetteville and Goldsboro -- both routes."

The goal of the Rail Division is to do both, and if everything were to work out perfectly, a scenario he said rarely plays out, it would take several years just to get the preliminary work done. Then another application would have to go in for funding of the track work.

"We're making progress," Simmons said. "Now, I hope that gives you optimism, but no date is certain."

Others asked questions about whether or not a Goldsboro route to Wilmington would be competing for funding with the proposed Fayetteville route.

"Where would Goldsboro stand? ... Are we in the middle? Are we at the top? Are we at the bottom?" councilman Bob Waller asked.

"We don't know that yet," Simmons replied. "They both make sense to me for different reasons. We're not looking to set up a ... competition. We're looking to develop a statewide transportation network."

But eventually, he added, once the preliminary work -- if funded -- is completed, the Fayetteville, Goldsboro and western Carolina projects proposed by the state would likely be prioritized.

"Of the three, something is going to look better than the other two, but I don't know what that's going to be," Simmons said.

Despite the uncertainty regarding rail service, those who met at City Hall did leave with more favorable news.

Union Station senior project engineer Craig Newton talked about progress on rehabilitation at the depot site and said he has been in close contact with architect David Gall.

"We're really excited about the progress David Gall and his staff ... are making," Newton said. "We had a good conference call with them at the middle of this week to work out some details."

Gall's crew will be submitting a 30-percent design and cost estimate in November, Newton said, and then will begin work on the 70-percent design, which Newton expects to be completed by March 2010.

Bid documents, "if everything goes according to plan," would be completed by July and then construction would begin.

"Ideally, we would begin construction in October, and depending on the phasing, if we were able to fund the entire Union Station rehab, it would probably take about two years to do the whole thing," Newton said. "It's a huge site, as you can see."

The bus facility, he added, is being worked on right now by GATEWAY and Greyhound officials, as they are trying to secure funding for construction of the facility from the Federal Transit Administration.

So while rail service might be years down the road, one thing is clear, he said.

Goldsboro is getting it's Union Station back.