Raleigh - From strengthening freight movement and supporting economic growth throughout the state to taking thousands of football fans to Carolina Panthers games on the Piedmont trains, it has been a busy year for the N.C. Department of Transportation's Rail Division.
"We've made great strides toward meeting several of Governor Pat McCrory's goals for transportation," Rail Division Director Paul Worley said. "Our progress is essential to facilitating the safe, efficient and cost-effective movement of people and goods on the state's rail lines."
Major Container Shipping Hub Locating in Edgecombe County
In July, Governor McCrory announced that CSX will open an intermodal terminal in Edgecombe County. Known as the Carolina Connector, this critical infrastructure project will bring jobs and economic opportunity to eastern North Carolina and position the state as a leader in enhanced freight movement.
The Carolina Connector will transfer containerized cargo between trains and trucks, processing more than 260,000 containers per year initially. Building the facility is expected to create 250 to 300 short-term jobs in engineering, technical services and construction. Conservative estimates indicate the hub is expected to create 1,500 jobs throughout North Carolina as a result of the terminal's operations.
The project received one of the highest scores under Governor McCrory's Strategic Transportation Investments formula, qualifying it for $100 million in state money for track improvements as well as connecting infrastructure. The hub is expected to open in 2020.
Queen City Express Connecting Port of Wilmington and Charlotte
Governor McCrory also announced in July the debut of the new Queen City Express, an intermodal rail service between the Port of Wilmington and CSX's intermodal terminal in Charlotte. CSX will also eventually provide direct access from the Port of Wilmington to the Carolina Connector intermodal terminal in Edgecombe County.
The Queen City Express will lower transportation costs for businesses, while taking trucks off the road. Transporting goods by rail reduces congestion and wear and tear on the state's highways, and improves safety and air quality. One intermodal train can eliminate as many as 280 trucks from the highway.
Piedmont Improvement Program Construction Continues
All Piedmont Improvement Program (PIP) track and bridge construction projects are now underway, with projects completed in Alamance, Cabarrus, Durham, Guilford, Mecklenburg and Wake counties.
To complete the work, the Transportation Department partnered with the North Carolina Railroad Company (the owner of the Raleigh to Charlotte railroad corridor), along with Norfolk Southern Railway and CSX Transportation, which are performing the track construction.
"These improvements will ensure more opportunities for businesses and our freight partners," said Worley. "Safety and efficiency on the tracks allow freight railroads to get more goods to communities in our state to bring about job growth and economic development."
These projects are largely funded through federal stimulus money through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The Federal Railroad Administration awarded the state a $546.5 million grant from that program in 2010. A cooperative agreement with the agency specifies that $520 million of the money goes directly to PIP. The rest of the money is helping to improve reliability of existing freight and passenger service from Raleigh to Virginia.
North Carolina has nearly 3,300 miles of track used by passenger and freight trains alike. The PIP also benefits Class One railroads, such as Norfolk Southern and CSX Transportation.
The Piedmont Improvement Program projects include:
- Thirteen new bridges that will separate traffic from trains and improve safety for motorists;
- More than 30 miles of new second track along the corridor, making the route between Greensboro and Charlotte fully double track;
- More than five miles of second track between Raleigh and Greensboro for trains to pass each other;
- 12 miles of new highway construction; and
- Selected track construction as part of the Raleigh Union Station.
These projects enable closure of 23 public railroad crossings and 22 private crossings, which will eliminate the potential for train and vehicle collisions.
All projects are scheduled to be completed by fall of 2017. More information about the PIP can be found at ncdot.gov/projects/pip/.
Carolina Panthers Playoff Run and Piedmont Trains to the Games
More than 4,900 football fans hopped on board the “Panthers Trains” during the Carolina Panthers’ 2015-16 season that culminated in an NFC championship.
Passengers from Raleigh to Charlotte enjoyed a unique opportunity to travel to home games on board Piedmont trains 73 and 76. The trains departed the Raleigh Amtrak station on gameday mornings to travel to Charlotte, and returned to Raleigh after the games in the evenings.
Back by popular demand, the N.C. Department of Transportation and NC By Train are taking fans to and from select games during the 2016-17 season.
Tickets can be purchased online at NCbyTrain.org.
Enhanced Wi-Fi Service Added to Raleigh-Charlotte Piedmont Train
In October, the Rail Division began offering enhanced premium Wi-Fi service onboard the Piedmont trains, which operate between Raleigh and Charlotte. This gives passengers three Wi-Fi options – Bronze, Silver and Gold plans. The 30-minute Bronze plan is included in the purchase of a ticket, with Silver and Gold plans as added options. The tiered Wi-Fi services provide passengers with higher speeds and additional media streaming options, and can be purchased on an hourly basis for occasional riders, as well a monthly fee for regular riders of the Piedmont.
Division Director Awarded Order of the Long Leaf Pine
On Dec. 20, Rail Division Director Paul Worley was awarded the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, which is one of the highest civilian honors in North Carolina. It is awarded to residents who stand out in their communities and have devoted their lives to serving others. Worley is the longest-serving employee in the division and supervises its day-to-day operations. He was instrumental in recruiting the Carolina Connector intermodal terminal to Edgecombe County and bringing rail service to the Port of Wilmington and Charlotte.
Rail Division 2017 Outlook
The Rail Division is poised for an even more successful year in 2017. Major milestones are expected to include the complete planning and preliminary engineering on the Carolina Connector, the completion of the Piedmont Improvement Program and a planned addition of a daily passenger round trip between Raleigh and Charlotte, after the Raleigh Union Station is placed in service.