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Study Overview and Purpose
With the Andrews to Murphy rail line in Cherokee County lying dormant for decades, the N.C. Department of Transportation’s Rail Division commissioned a study to evaluate the possibility of reopening the once integral and active rail corridor.
The rail line was closed to freight traffic in 1985, following years of economic decline. Passenger service was discontinued almost 40 years before in 1948, as Americans moved to the automobile as the primary form of transportation.
Today, many regional leaders believe it is an untapped resource when it comes to freight and tourism rail service in western North Carolina.
Completed in February 2015, the Andrews to Murphy Rail Reactivation Study, found that reactivating freight and tourism service on the Andrews to Murphy rail line would provide an economic boost to Cherokee County and should be considered along with other rail priorities in western North Carolina.
The study looked into different areas of reactivating the line, including:
- Technical studies of infrastructure needs, including track, bridges and supporting facilities
- Cost and repair projections
- Operational considerations
- Economic forecasts (market assessment, economic development potential and funding sources)
- Potential return on investment
Rail Evaluation Process
Decision-makers and stakeholders examined not only objective measures, but also more subjective input, including stakeholder interviews and comparative case studies.
The rail line analysis used the Transportation Economic Development Impact System model to understand the impact of freight and ancillary development. Public engagement through one-on-one stakeholder interviews, a public symposium and focus group discussions played a part in the evaluation, as well.
Market Potential and Investment Viability
Stakeholder interviews, comparative case studies and economic modeling were important components of the analyses. Results of the stakeholder interviews were generally positive. Return on investment analysis indicates that the service would provide a significant boost to Cherokee County’s economic vitality.
Environmental resources – streams, wetlands, protected floodplains and protected species – along the rail corridor were evaluated, as well as possible direct impacts to these resources. Information – including a preliminary assessment on the human environment surrounding the rail corridor, such as historic structures, farmlands and schools in close proximity to the rail line – is also provided in the report.
The project team used a comprehensive outreach strategy to ensure adequate participation and a cross-section of viewpoints on the advantages and disadvantages of reactivating the Andrews to Murphy rail line. The strategy used a series of active outreach methods that included stakeholder interviews, surveys, public information sessions, discussion groups and a project symposium.
Marc L. Hamel
Rail Project Development Manager
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