North Carolina is in a league apart from the states that won the largest shares of the Obama administration’s money for high-speed and intercity rail.
From a political and fiscal perspective, that might not be a bad thing. (See today’s story, "With funds in jeopardy, N.C. pushes rail projects," with reader comments.)
California and Florida have ambitious plans for trains that will be faster than North Carolina’s – and much more expensive.
California won $3.9 billion in federal stimulus funds to help start a planned $43 billion, 700-mile network of trains that will go up to 220 mph. State and federal funds will lay the first 120 miles of track from Fresno to Bakersfield through California’s rural Central Valley, but more money will be needed in the future to buy trains and actually start carrying passengers.
Florida was awarded $2.4 billion for a fast track between Tampa and the Orlando airport. These trains will reach 186 mph for a trip that runs only 84 miles, a few miles longer than the ride from Raleigh to Greensboro.
The Reason Foundation, a conservative spin tank that regularly opposes trains and transit projects, predicted this month that the Florida plan would saddle taxpayers will billions of dollars in unexpected costs.
North Carolina also has drawn criticism from the Reason Foundation and its allies at the home-grown John Locke Foundation. But Gov. Bev Perdue, a Democrat, has been spared partisan debate about the state’s more modest, gradual approach to boosting train travel.
Meanwhile (this information initially was omitted from the online version of today’s story), Amtrak ridership in North Carolina is increasing steadily:
More of us go by train
Amtrak says 803,196 riders boarded or stepped down from its trains at 16 North Carolina stations during fiscal year 2010. That’s 15 percent more than in 2009.
Raleigh handled 164,745 passengers at its cramped depot on Cabarrus Street. It was the busiest Amtrak stop between Richmond and the auto-train station at Sanford, Fla.
Most of the state’s growth rode trains that serve the urban crescent between Charlotte and Raleigh:
* The Piedmont, which makes seven stops between the two cities, served 99,873 riders – a 58 percent increase. Much of that growth came after a second daily round-trip was added to the Piedmont schedule in June.
* The Carolinian, which makes three more North Carolina stops as it continues north from Raleigh to New York, served 308,107 riders, up nearly 20 percent from the previous year.
Four other Amtrak trains stop in North Carolina on routes to New York.
In their requests for a combined $7 billion in federal funds to build out the Southeast High Speed Rail Corridor from Charlotte to Washington, D.C., North Carolina and Virginia projected more than 1.6 million riders between the two cities in the first year.