Project Overview and Purpose

The 450-mile Southeast Corridor is a comprehensive transportation network of air travel, roads, bus services and passenger and freight rail that runs from Washington, D.C., to Atlanta.

Higher-speed passenger service in this corridor, where trains can travel up to 110 mph, would decrease travel time, provide alternatives to highway congestion on I-85 and I-95 and improve connectivity for passengers in both the Southeast and Northeast.

North Carolina has two segments of rail that are critical to improving the Southeast Corridor: Charlotte to Raleigh and Raleigh to Richmond.

The N.C. Department of Transportation completed a series of safety and capacity improvements on the Charlotte-to-Raleigh segment in August 2017 and is currently seeking federal funding to build a rail line from Raleigh to Richmond.

Project History

The Southeast Corridor route was selected from several options as the result of a study completed in 2002 – referred to as a Tier I study – that identified the need, as well as a vision, for higher-speed passenger rail service in the region.

Two of the rail segments critical to improving the Southeast Corridor are in North Carolina: Charlotte to Raleigh and Raleigh to Richmond.

Charlotte to Raleigh

A Tier II environmental study followed on the Charlotte-to-Raleigh segment that, when completed and approved by the Federal Railroad Administration, cleared the way for NCDOT to apply for and receive a $520 million grant in 2010 from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The grant was used to fund the Piedmont Improvement Program, a series of projects to improve safety and add capacity to the railroad.

Completed in August 2017, safety improvements involved building bridges for trains to cross over or under vehicular traffic and closing some railroad crossings. NCDOT also built roads and parallel railroad tracks along parts of the corridor that move freight and passengers through the heart of the state.

Improvements also involved adding up to two daily passenger-train round trips between Charlotte and Raleigh – making a total of five round trips daily. An additional round trip is expected to be added in May 2018.

Other work involved improving stations and equipment to allow for additional passenger trips between the two cities.

Raleigh to Richmond

A significant study of the second segment between Raleigh and Richmond – the Southeast High-Speed Rail Tier II Final Environmental Impact Statement Raleigh to Richmond Study – verified CSXT's former Seaboard Air Line Railroad (S-Line) as the best route for higher-speed passenger rail, between the two cities, and included preliminary designs for construction.

The S-Line corridor runs from Raleigh to Wake Forest to Henderson on to Richmond. The rail line is removed from Norlina to Petersburg, Va., while the rail line between Raleigh to Norlina is an active line.

A Record of Decision documenting the Federal Railroad Administration's approval of study findings was signed March 24, 2017.

With the Record of Decision signed, NCDOT is now working to identify funding sources for final design, land acquisitions, construction and service implementation.

The completion of the Tier II Final Environmental Impact Statement Raleigh to Richmond study and preliminary design process has put the corridor on a firm footing to apply for federal funding or public-private partnerships, should either become available, and matching state funds can be identified.

Once the rail line is restored and built to standards needed for higher-speed trains, the rail line would offer a faster and more direct route north and would help alleviate congestion.

Project Funding

Construction of necessary capital improvements for service from Raleigh to Richmond will cost approximately $4 billion.

Initial estimates indicate revenues will cover ongoing operation and maintenance costs, but a significant amount of funding is needed to establish the service.

Federal funding, federal loans, and/or public-private partnerships with local and state matches will be needed to fund the project.

Due to the funding constraints, a timeline for project development and construction has not been established.

Why Higher-Speed Rail Service?

Higher-speed rail from Raleigh to Richmond and additional capacity from Richmond to Washington are essential to significantly improving passenger services, while also linking the Southeast to the Northeast Corridor.

Connecting Raleigh and Richmond on the CSXT rail line would improve safety, mobility and connectivity for rail passengers and freight in the Southeastern United States and provide alternatives to highway congestion on I-85 and I-95.

In terms of economic development, linking business centers in the Southeast Corridor is important. Rail development also encourages increasing density around station stops in addition to longer distance commuter alternatives; thereby lessening the growth in highway demand. It also provides a transportation alternative for those who cannot or choose not to drive.

Population Growth & Economic Development

The Triangle region of North Carolina is growing rapidly with an increase in population of 43 percent since 2001. The Richmond area has more than 1.3 million people and is the 44th largest metro area in the country.

Linking these two vibrant state capitals and providing linkages to Washington, D.C., and passenger rail in the Northeast Corridor are important steps forward for increased accessibility to alternative modes of transportation on the East Coast.

With competitive door-to-door travel times, higher-speed rail can be an attractive travel alternative. The Northeast Corridor currently captures between 52 percent and 70 percent of the air/rail market share in the northeast. The Southeast Corridor Raleigh to Richmond ridership/revenue studies indicate that increased access and lower travel times will demonstrate positive operating and maintenance revenues in the studied horizon.

Travel Demand Forecasts

The Tier I Study ridership and revenue forecasts for the corridor were re-examined in Tier II and anticipate that collected fares will cover all operations and maintenance costs for higher-speed rail travel in the corridor.

Corridor Preservation

As with all major transportation projects, corridor preservation is crucial to ensuring that important projects are able to follow the most desirable route with minimal capital, environmental and social costs.

The proposed Raleigh to Richmond project follows the former Seaboard Air Line Railroad (S-Line) corridor while making alignment revisions to accommodate 21st Century speeds, safety and travel times.

It is essential to preserve the S-Line corridor to protect this key section of the Southeast Corridor until construction begins.

Future Improvements

The Tiered Environmental Impact Statement process discloses the ultimate build-out scenario for higher-speed rail service in the Southeast Corridor. Since its initial designation, the corridor has been extended to link to the Hampton Roads area of Virginia. Extending the corridor southward to Jacksonville, Fla., has also been approved, and the Charlotte to Atlanta section of the Southeast Corridor was evaluated in a 2015 Tier II study.

Public Safety

The Tier II Final Environmental Impact Statement Raleigh to Richmond study was designed with current state-of-the-industry rail design standards to ensure the safety of the traveling public and to allow passenger and freight service to share the corridor. Along with air, rail travel is a very safe mode of travel.

Corridor Study Reports and Maps

Contact Information

James F. Bridges Jr., P.E., CPM
Rail Project Development Manager
Send a message
(919) 707-4716
NCDOT Rail Division
1553 Mail Service Center
Raleigh, NC 27699-1553

Resources for Local Property Owners

Although the N.C. Department of Transportation works to minimize the number of homes and businesses displaced by a road project, it is inevitable, in many cases, that a certain amount of private property is needed. The following information explains right of way acquisition and answers questions about the process.