The Regional Transportation Alliance has focused on improvements to regional and intercity transportation for more than 15 years. Sometimes the process is fairly quick, and sometimes it seems slow.

Driving within North Carolina’s Piedmont crescent can also be quick or slow, depending on how I-40 (within the Triangle) and I-85 (from the Triangle to points west) are doing at a particular time.

However, there is another way to travel across the metropolitan crescent from Raleigh and Durham to Charlotte: via North Carolina’s state-supported rail service. Existing Amtrak passenger rail directly serves six of our state’s nine largest communities — Charlotte, Raleigh, Greensboro, Durham, Cary, and High Point — along the North Carolina Railroad Company corridor.

Travel by train between Raleigh and Charlotte currently takes a little more than 3 hours, which represents a significant improvement since its inception. There are four daily trains per direction each way to choose from: three “Piedmont” trains and one daily Carolinian train. The Piedmont trains, which never depart North Carolina, generally have more reliable schedules than the Carolinian which hails from the northeast corridor including New York and Washington, recent improvements to Richmond’s Acca yard notwithstanding.

While the train service is already worth considering for some trips,
we recognize that if the reliable travel time between the cities could get below three hours (even 2:59), that would be game-changing in terms of business community consideration and usage of the service.

So, we asked NCDOT to examine various potential options for doing just that — making various infrastructure improvements, running express service, and so on, to get trip times closer to or just below three hours, at least for some trains.

Earlier this year, the NCDOT Rail Division created an initial analysis report for us at our request that highlights some opportunities for making schedule improvements from Raleigh to Charlotte, and the costs and ease of doing so.

While the report is not the final answer, it begins to point the way for potential solutions, and it is worth a read.

Jason Orthner, the head of NCDOT’s Rail Division, presented some of these findings and related background information at our quarterly Leadership Team meeting a few weeks ago. His remarks were thoughtful, detailed, and promising.

We applaud NCDOT for their willingness to respond to and engage in the regional business community’s continued interest in improving intercity passenger rail, both south and north of Raleigh. We look forward to continuing the partnership with NCDOT as they explore additional options to get the reliable passenger rail trip time down closer to or just below 3 hours.

We also value our ongoing partnership with the North Carolina Railroad Company, the owner of the corridor from Charlotte to Raleigh (and east to Morehead City), and with GoTriangle, the regional transit provider for our area. Both NCRR and GoTriangle are members of the RTA Leadership Team, and both organizations take their responsibility to improve mobility and support economic development very seriously.

While potential improvements for rail travel to Charlotte are worth exploring, given that the proposed commuter rail service serving Durham and Wake counties — and potentially one or more nearby counties — will also use the North Carolina Railroad Company corridor, there is real potential for synergy as purposeful investments in rail infrastructure are considered in the Triangle. The regional business community will continue to engage in these conversations through RTA and the efforts of several of our member chambers of commerce.

I encourage you to check the links above about the existing passenger rail service to Charlotte, which can still be a quite effective option for many trips within the metropolitan crescent. I also remind our members that you can get a transfer from rail to various public transit services for free, which helps resolve the last mile issue.

Joe Milazzo II, PE 
RTA Executive Director

post reference: th3.2019.15

RTA is the voice of the regional business community on transportation

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