GOP tries to put brakes on high-speed rail in NC

Posted March 22, 2011

— State and federal transportation officials said Tuesday they've reached an agreement to release $461 million in stimulus funds to North Carolina to improve passenger train service between Raleigh and Charlotte.

Some lawmakers, however, want the state to reject the funding unless the General Assembly approves high-speed rail projects.

North Carolina had to obtain an agreement with Norfolk Southern Railway and Amtrak to qualify for the stimulus grants. The Federal Railroad Administration had been concerned that slower freight trains might hamper the faster passenger service.

Part of the rail route between Charlotte and Raleigh is shared with Norfolk Southern freight trains. For passengers, that sometimes means long delays when Amtrak trains must stop to allow a freight train to pass.

The state Department of Transportation said some of the stimulus money will be used to lay new tracks between Greensboro and Charlotte. Curves will be straightened to allow passenger trains to reach maximum speeds of 90 mph, and 12 new bridges will eliminate 30 highway-rail crossings.

"We're talking about modernizing our existing rail system. It's been generations since we put a significant investment into them," said Pat Simmons, director of DOT's Rail Division.

Rep. Ric Killian, R-Mecklenburg, introduced a bill Tuesday to prevent North Carolina from using the stimulus money.

House Bill 422, which could be heard by a legislative committee as early as next week, would penalize DOT for funding any high-speed rail projects without legislative approval.

"I don't use the word 'invest' because I don't believe in that word when it comes to federal money," Killian said. "I frankly am very concerned for our taxpayers, and I think somebody needs to step up and say, 'Wait a minute.'"

Train ridership increases as gas prices skyrocket GOP tries to put brakes on high-speed rail in NC

He said he believes high-speed rail will cost the state too much, will hurt freight train capacity and won't relieve congestion on the roads.

A number of Republican lawmakers also said they don't want North Carolina committing itself to operating high-speed rail by taking the federal cash. The General Assembly should be part of such spending decisions, they said.

"That really is a legislative issue," said Sen. Richard Stevens, R-Wake. "What are the costs long term and what are the benefits as a result? Do the benefits outweigh the costs? That discussion has not taken place yet."

Rep. Becky Carney, D-Mecklenburg, said she believes high-speed rail is needed, especially with commuters paying more to put gas in their vehicles.

"We have got to continue moving forward progressively with mass transit in this state," Carney said. "I'm sorry to see this (bill) coming up at this point in time."

The money is part of $545 million the federal government awarded to North Carolina a year ago for rail upgrades to cut travel time from Charlotte to Raleigh to less than three hours, even with seven stops along the way.

Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin have turned down their share of stimulus money for other high-speed rail projects, and DOT officials said North Carolina is applying to pick up a portion of that money.

DOT spokeswoman Nicole Meister said the agency would seek bids for contracts for tracks, bridges and trains.

Some of the work has ready started, including renovation of several train stations on the route, Meister said. A third daily trip between Raleigh and Charlotte also has been added.

Unless Killian's bill passes, the project, which is expected to create nearly 5,000 jobs, should be completed by 2017.


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  • ahblid Mar 24, 2011

    JustAName wrote: "but... Eisenhower saw the conditions in Europe during the war and realized that the country need a method of moving military troops and vehicles quickly throughout the country in order to defend the country. Providing for the common defense is actually in the constitution."

    President Eishenhower first tried to sell just the Interstate Highway System (IHS). When he got much the same reaction that some are currently giving for HSR, Ike regrouped and made the IHS all about the military so as to overcome the objections.

    In any event, we've gone far beyond the IHS being for the military. Not only do you not aee all that much in the way of the military on our roads, but at best they only need 2 lanes in each direction or a 4 lane highway.

    The 6, 8, 10, & 12 lane highways we have are for drivers; not the military. Drivers I might add who aren't paying fully for what they're using, and I include myself in that group.

  • ahblid Mar 24, 2011

    btneast wrote: "I'm saying that we don't *love* and *want* our cars the way we once did. We are more willing to leave them and use other transportation.

    Just because you wish for and believe that does not make it true.."

    Well ever since 2008 the number of miles driven has been going down.

    On the other hand ridership on trains of all types in this country continues to go up. In 1979 American's took 2.488 billion rides on subways, El's, light rail, commuter rail, etc. By 2008 that number had nearly double to 4.473 billion rides taken and it continues to increase.

  • ahblid Mar 24, 2011

    Alex25 wrote: "No light mass transit anywhere in America is self-supporting. None. Even Amtrak has lost - $30B?? over the yrs."

    Just in the last 3 years the Fed has borrowed $62 Billion for the Interstate Highways because we drivers aren't paying enough via the Federal fuel tax to cover the outlays of the Highway Trust Fund.

    Amtrak's been around for 40 years, so that $62 billion would have kept it going for 80 years.

    Those highway improvements brought with that $62B will be lucky if they last 10 years before needing billions more to repave and rebuild.

  • ahblid Mar 24, 2011

    Over and over in the six pages of posts I keep seeing things like "Obama's train" and "liberal dreams", etc. Nothing could be further from the truth. The only thing liberal about this is that President Obama is funding a Republican dream!

    Sec Trans Andrew H Card Jr., on behalf of the President George H W Bush White House designated the North Carolina to Richmond rail corridor as a HSR corridor back in 1992, along with 4 other corridors including the one in Florida where the current Governor just rejected funds.

    Further dispelling this "liberal" myth, 14 Republican Florida State Senators joined with 10 Democratic Senators to form a veto proof majority in rebuking their governor for his foolish actions.

    The other six HSR corridors in this country were designated by the Clinton White House. However, President Clinton was only given the authority to designate those 6 additional HSR corridors after the then Republican controlled Congress passed TEA-21 (Transit Equity Act) in 1998.

  • gunny462 Mar 24, 2011

    "Jobs will magicly appear once the GOP takes charge"

    Really? What happened to the 2 full years under the dems? Ooh I see You forgot already. I like all of those shovel ready jobs being offered right NOW!

    "I think this newly elected Republican majority will only pass something if it will be money in their own pockets. Watch the trail of corruption they create while telling their voters whatever they need to hear to get elected. Same story, over and over. ChgoGrl"

    Seems YOU forgot about the LAST 100 YEARS under the corrupt dem control here in NC ;)

  • btneast Mar 24, 2011

    Watch the trail of corruption they create while telling their voters whatever they need to hear to get elected.
    That malady exists in both parties. If you think that it is exclusive to one party only, you are hopelessly naive, or just refuse to see fault in the party that carries your flag.

  • ChgoGrl Mar 24, 2011

    I think this newly elected Republican majority will only pass something if it will be money in their own pockets. Watch the trail of corruption they create while telling their voters whatever they need to hear to get elected. Same story, over and over.

  • blackdog Mar 24, 2011

    "I assume you do realize that figure is an estimate at best, more realistically a guess. Even so, most of those "jobs" are not really full time year round jobs. They are what work a particular person may do on some part of the construction, however brief it may be. Even then, many of those will go to out of state folks......"

    Jobs don't matter. What's the point of creating jobs. It doesn't matter. Jobs will magicly appear once the GOP takes charge. Why should we even be concerned about the future ? It isn't here yet. The GOP is campaigning now. And jobs really aren't important to the GOP. Being antithical to the stimulus is. Being anthical to this administration is more important than job creation.

  • btneast Mar 24, 2011

    Prior to the late 1950's, early 1960's the most popular form of transporation was the train. Yes, cars existed back then, and many had them, but trains were the most popular and for long distance travel

    Yes, passenger trains were much more in use back then, and more folks may have travled by train as well, but very few folks made long distance trips back then....at least not to the extent that they do now. In the Northeast Corridor, trains were, and are still to a degree, much more prevalent than the rest of the country. Train usgae fell off here because car and air transportation kept up with modern advances. It's not uncommon for an air fare to be close to the cost of a train ticket, and only take a fraction of the time.

  • blackdog Mar 24, 2011

    "I am astounded at the stupidity of hp277. Who in their right mind believes that hundreds of millions of TAX PAYER dollars creates even 1 PRIVATE SECTOR job?? If it is such a great deal, then why don't the RR's foot the bill instead of the tax payers??? (Oh yes, I forgot, the RR's can't turn a profit, so they are run by tax payer dollars!!)"

    Yeah yeah yeah. Defense dollars that went to Boeing, Lockheed, Grumman, General Dynamics, General Electric, Alcoa, DuPont, FMC, and on and on didn't pay workers who paid taxes and produced weapons and systems. Everyone working at Ft. Bragg, etc. are paid by the tooth fairy.