I was in Raleigh, N.C., Sept. 19, for a meeting of the Virginia/North Carolina Interstate High Speed Rail Compact, an organization I am honored to chair.
The Compact is working jointly on planning and development of enhanced passenger rail from Charlotte N.C., to Washington D.C. This would include intercity connections with Raleigh, N.C, Richmond, Va. and Norfolk Va.
At the meeting on Monday, the Compact received an update on the general passenger rail and the respective state programs. Kevin Page, the chief of the rail division for Virginia, updated the members on the current progress of the planning in Virginia. This included an analysis of the success of the state-funded AMTRAK service between Lynchburg and Richmond as well as the state funded AMTRAK service on the extension to Norfolk. The Lynchburg service is currently in its second year and the Norfolk service is anticipated in three to four years.
Virginia is currently awaiting federal approval to proceed with Tier II engineering and environmental studies for planning for the Richmond to Washington D.C., corridor.
Paul Worley, the director of Engineering and Safety for the NC rail division, updated the compact members on several projects underway in North Carolina at the present time.
With a planned completion date of January 2013, North Carolina is purchasing and rebuilding five locomotives and 10 passenger cars for its passenger rail system. Improvements are also underway at Cary Station, Burlington, and Kannapolis with an expansion of the maintenance facilities in Raleigh and Charlotte.
Negotiations are underway as well between Norfolk Southern, CSX and North Carolina on improvements in and around Raleigh and north to the Virginia line. North Carolina has also entered into a memorandum with CSX and is obtaining a Tier II environmental impact statement from Raleigh to Richmond.
In the course of the discussion, I requested of the leadership of Virginia and North Carolina rail divisions, as well as the respective offices of the Attorney General, to investigate the ability of the states to engage with the private sector rail companies in public/private partnerships in order to implement and finance these much needed rail improvements.
The Compact is attempting to provide the vision for future transportation in a significant section of the east coast urban/suburban corridors. Clearly, passenger rail is one opportunity to mitigate automobile traffic congestion that currently exists on north/south corridors, as well as on the densely populated regions of Virginia and North Carolina. Its next meeting is anticipated to be in Richmond in early January.
In another transportation area, I will be getting back to you soon as I have a better understanding regarding the Governor’s transportation plan, after his recent announcement regarding the possibility of tolls in Interstate 95.