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N.C. to get $545M for high-speed rail

About $520 million will go to improve the rail corridor between Charlotte and Raleigh. Another $25 million will go for improvements from Raleigh to Richmond, Va.

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WASHINGTON — North Carolina will get $545 million in federal stimulus funds to speed passenger trains between Charlotte and Raleigh and for connections to Washington, D.C.

The White House said Thursday that $520 million will pay for dozens of projects to upgrade tracks, increase top train speeds to 90 mph and double the number of round trips between the state's two largest cities

About $25 million will go toward rail improvements from Raleigh to Richmond, Va.

Another $75 million would be used for improvements in Virginia to expand the Southeast High-Speed Rail Corridor from Washington to Atlanta and beyond.

When complete, it will connect to the Northeast High-Speed Rail Corridor, which would connect through Boston and other cities in New England.

The money comes from $8 billion in competitive grants – part of the $787 billion federal stimulus package – distributed among 31 states building 13 high-speed-rail corridors. (See a list of all high-speed rail awards.)

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson said during a ceremony at Durham's renovated train station that the rail improvement projects would mean thousands of jobs.

"Building high-speed rail will put people in North Carolina to work right away, lay the foundation for long-term growth and make travel faster and cheaper," Jackson said, "all while reducing our impact on the environment."

The project is expected to create or maintain 4,800 private-sector jobs in North Carolina and provide environmental and energy benefits through reduced congestion and improved air quality.

The U.S. Federal Railroad Administration says the term "high-speed rail" applies to trains traveling more than 90 mph.

Top speeds from Charlotte to Raleigh could reach 110 mph, averaging 85 mph to 87 mph (current passenger trains average between 46 mph to 48 mph), with an estimated travel time of two to three hours.

State Department of Transportation Secretary Gene Conti said the track from Charlotte to Raleigh is projected to be complete within three years.

"We were looking at a 2017 time frame for rail from Charlotte to Richmond," he said. "That'll be delayed a year or so."

Transportation officials said North Carolina, which applied for $5 billion, fared well in stimulus funding.

Other states, such as California and Florida, received much more. California got more than $2.3 billion for the corridor from Sacramento to San Diego. The line from Tampa to Orlando is getting $1.25 billion.

Announcing the funding last year, President Barack Obama said the United States cannot afford not to invest in high-speed rail travel – already in place in China, Japan, France and Spain – saying it will relieve congestion, help clean the air and save on energy.

"(The) investment is how we can break ground across the country, putting people to work building high-speed rail lines, because there’s no reason why Europe or China should have the fastest trains when we can build them right here in America,” he said Thursday.

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