Picturing Raleigh's train depot

November 13, 2012 

The state DOT’s point man for the new Raleigh train depot project, rail engineer Craig M. Newton, was being candid in talking with The N&O’s Bruce Siceloff about the old warehouse that will become the depot’s centerpiece.

“It doesn’t look like much now,” said Newton of the former Dillon Supply Co. structure, “but we’ve got great plans for it.” And if those plans, now moving right along, are realized, the capital city will acquire an impressive amenity boosting the vibrancy of its downtown while giving residents throughout the region better travel options.

The cost to convert Dillon’s old Viaduct Building, to upgrade passenger platforms and to make other related improvements is pegged at $60 million. Thanks largely to federal grants, augmented by state and local funding, the money is in sight. Now the DOT is providing a more fully developed look at how the project will come together.

Entry to the remodeled building will be from a pedestrian plaza lowered to allow passage beneath an existing track that forms one side of the triangular Boylan Wye, the complex rail junction between downtown and the Boylan Heights neighborhood.

Passengers will proceed via a tunnel to a new platform that will have the advantage of being elevated to rail cars’ floor level. Anyone who has tried to maneuver up the narrow steps of a coach car, perhaps hefting luggage, children and so forth, will appreciate the ease that comes from being able to simply walk into a car, roll-along luggage in tow.

The target for completion of the new depot is now early 2017. That would mean the end of the line for the current Amtrak station on Cabarrus Street, where the platform is too short, the waiting area too cramped and the parking lot too small. More capacity means the new facility could accommodate more trains, including rush-hour commuter trains that are envisioned as part of Triangle-wide transit improvements. The depot eventually would be dovetailed with new bus service and – perhaps in the future – light rail transit and fast passenger trains to points north.

Bringing all those possibilities to fruition hinges on other funding decisions to be made at the Wake County level and by the federal government. But the prospect of having a transit hub in place to serve Raleigh’s downtown should make it easier for Wake commissioners and voters to join their counterparts in Durham and Orange counties in supporting a modest sales tax increase to finance more regional buses and trains.

The new depot will mean a better experience for many travelers to and from Raleigh and help in downtown’s transformation into a place for creativity and entrepreneurship. As a public investment, it doesn’t get much better than that.

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