A new bridge to carry passenger trains across Capital Boulevard is part of the alignment recommended this week by North Carolina and Virginia transportation officials for a proposed 162-mile track that would run trains as fast as 110 miles per hour between Raleigh and Richmond, Va.
The favored path for the proposed new track between the state capitals is described in a new 114-page draft recommendation report issued for the planned Southeast High Speed Rail Corridor from Charlotte to Washington, D.C. The report explains the two states' recommendations for the entire path, which passes through Norlina, Henderson, Franklinton, Youngsville and Wake Forest on its way south from Virginia to join an existing Amtrak route in downtown Raleigh.
But no one knows whether the project will ever be built. [5pm update: Pay no attention to the misplaced star on DOT's map, above. There are no plans to bring trains onto the Governor Morehead School campus.]
Virginia and North Carolina are spending nearly $600 million in federal grants to add tracks and make other rail improvements between Charlotte and Raleigh, and between Richmond and Washington.
The two states have received enough money to finish the environmental study and preliminary engineering work for the key Raleigh-to-Richmond link. But they would need much more -- an estimated $3 billion -- for land acquisition and rail and highway construction to complete the line. There are no prospects on the horizon for that money.
The new line to Richmond would be 35 miles shorter than the route now used by Amtrak, and NCDOT says it would cut about two hours of travel time for every rail journey from Charlotte and Raleigh to Washington and the Northeast.
The choice of a path through downtown Raleigh was the most expensive and contentious part of the rail plan.
DOT had considered alternatives that would run north either on the east side of Capital Boulevard, through a CSX freight rail yard -- or on the west side, through a Norfolk Southern freight rail yard. Norfolk Southern protested that the western path would cause the railroad more than $100 million in damages, and residents in nearby Five Point neighborhoods worried about noise and vibration from the added passenger trains.
Residents suggested a compromise that would swing the tracks over Capital from west to east, and DOT engineeers modified the idea last year to create the new option, which was endorsed by the Raleigh City Council.
The new downtown route devised by DOT engineers -- called NC5 -- would be the most expensive option for a 3.4-mile segment of the rail path from a planned Amtrak station near Hargett Street north to Whitaker Mill Road: a total estimated cost of $158.4 million. It features a 700-foot-long bridge that would lift trains over traffic on West Street and Capital Boulevard between Peace Street and Wade Avenue.
NC5 would force 48 businesses to relocate, instead of the 54 businesses that would be displaced by the Five Points route, called NC3. The NC5 right-of-way costs would be $11 million less.
But the long Capital Boulevard bridge would push its construction costs $32 million higher than NC3's.