Under the 1988 Rail Corridor Preservation Act, the N.C. Department of Transportation's Rail Division has an active program to buy railroads and preserve and rehabilitate rail corridors in the state.
With scarce public finances and rising costs of highway construction and maintenance, preserving and revitalizing existing railroad infrastructure and right of way has become an attractive and cost-effective option, especially since the current freight-rail system serves every major city and most counties in North Carolina.
NCDOT owns more than 100 miles of tracks in North Carolina, some of which have already been placed back in service and are utilized as trails and greenways.
Rail Corridor Preservation Projects
In 1988, the NCDOT bought the former Southern Railway's 67-mile Murphy Branch (part of which has since been purchased by the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad), setting the precedent for other acquisitions that followed.
In 2011, the Rail Division completed a $5 million upgrade (paid for by state and local funds) of the Piedmont & Northern rail corridor between Mt. Holly and Gastonia. The rail has been reactivated and is operated today by a short-line railroad under contract to NCDOT.
The 5-mile Global TransPark rail corridor has also been placed into active service and is operated by a private contractor.
Encroachment Agreements for NCDOT Rail Corridors
An encroachment agreement is required whenever utility installation or construction work is proposed along one of the 14 rail corridors owned by NCDOT.
NCDOT’s Rail Corridor Preservation Policy allows encroachments that are compatible with the eventual return of the corridors to active rail or other transportation use. Encroachments are documented in the form of an encroachment agreement between NCDOT and the agreement applicant.
Typical encroachments include utilities such as water, sewer, power and communications lines, and connections to NCDOT’s rail corridors that are used as trails such as the American Tobacco Trail. For more information about obtaining an encroachment agreement, visit the Encroachment Agreements for NCDOT Rail Corridors website.