N.C. Railroad ponders a commuter line

Staff WriterDecember 11, 2007 

— The tracks already run through Hillsborough. People just want the train to stop.

A group of citizens interested in bringing passenger rail back to Hillsborough met Monday with representatives from the N.C. Railroad Co. to discuss a potential commuter rail line.

The N.C. Railroad operates a busy freight corridor running 317 miles from Morehead City to Charlotte. Amtrak uses part of the line. Passenger trains haven't stopped in Hillsborough since 1964.

Now, the railroad is considering adding a commuter line between Goldsboro and Greensboro on the existing tracks, Public Affairs Director Kat Christian said. A commuter line most likely would run four trains each morning, one at midday, and another at the evening rush hour.

The N.C. Railroad, a privately run company owned by the state, has hired engineering firm HNTB to do a feasibility study. The study is expected to be released in June.

If the commuter rail were to be built, there would be a stop at an as-yet-undetermined location in the Hillsborough area, HNTB engineer James Kessler said.

"People are getting excited about the possibility," said Elizabeth Read, interim director of the Alliance for Historic Hillsborough.

Read sees a commuter railway as a potential boon for Hillsborough tourism, bringing sightseers into downtown for an afternoon of shopping and dining.

The governments of Hillsborough, Chapel Hill and Carrboro have all passed resolutions in support of passenger rail, and approximately 700 people have signed a petition in favor of a train stop, supporter Art Mines says.

Mines, a pediatric audiologist, works four days a week in Greensboro. He said he often drives to the train station in Burlington and takes the train the rest of the way.

"It's so comfortable, it's cushy," he said. "It just really takes the edge off all that driving."

There's plenty of local interest in commuter rail, Mine said, especially as environmental concerns grow. About 30 people attended the meeting Monday morning.

"This is the first time ... we've gotten real interest and response [from railroad officials]," said Thomas Campanella, a professor of urban planning at UNC-Chapel Hill and a member of the Hillsborough Planning Board.

emily.matchar@newsobserver.com or (919) 932-8742

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