Local News

Johnston County growth spurs demand for commuter rail

Posted May 3, 2010 6:07 p.m. EDT
Updated May 3, 2010 6:37 p.m. EDT

— Population growth in Johnston County could be the engine that brings a commuter rail system to the Triangle.

The North Carolina Railroad Co., which owns a 317-mile rail corridor that stretches from Charlotte to Morehead City, recently completed a rail ridership study in seven counties, from Greensboro to Goldsboro. The results of the study will be presented next week during a conference in Raleigh on how rail benefits the state economy.

Sources told WRAL News that the study has found that growth in Johnston County has generated demand for a rail line from Goldsboro to Raleigh to offer commuters in Clayton and other parts of the county another option to driving U.S. Highway 70 or Interstate 40 to Raleigh.

The county's population jumped by 38 percent between 2000 and last year, while Clayton grew by 69 percent during that period, officials said. Four of every five Johnston County workers drove to work by themselves in 2000, and about half lived at least 30 minutes from their workplace, according to census information.

"Conventional commuter rail has not been used here before, so we wanted to know what the market is," NCRR President Scott Saylor said, declining to comment on the results of the ridership study.

determined that new tracks could be laid within the company's 200-foot-wide corridor, allowing commuter trains to run alongside the freight trains that use NCRR rail lines daily.

The cost for the project was estimated at $1 billion, or about $7 million per mile.

Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker said a half-cent local sales tax for transit would be one way to raise the money for a commuter rail system. County officials would have to agree to place such a tax on the ballot for voter approval.

"We're hearing there is a significant demand" for a rail system," Meeker said. "Quite frankly, we're way behind, and we need to catch up."

James Kaelin and his wife moved from Boston to Clayton two years ago to escape New England winters and urban congestion. He said he wouldn't mind a sales tax increase to pay for better transit in the Triangle.

"More people (are) coming in and bringing in a bigger tax base for the counties," Kaelin said. "(I would support it) as long as the money went to (the rail system) and didn't go to something else."