Few would have believed that one day it would be possible to ride a train from Raleigh to Charlotte, avoiding the sometimes-painful traffic along I-40 and I-85, in three hours and 10 minutes, which is virtually the same amount of time it takes to drive the route. And yet now it is possible. The state has boosted its top train speeds from 59 to 79 mph in the last 20 years.
The Raleigh-to-Greensboro trip is likewise almost identical, time-wise, to the driving time, and it has become a delightful one-day turnaround for many people who want to take their kids or grandkids on a “real” train.
The News & Observer’s road worrier, Bruce Siceloff, offers an update on the state’s efforts to expand rail service, and it’s good news.
Cities and towns along the Raleigh-Charlotte route are improving their stations. Cary has a very nice one, and Raleigh’s Union Station is to open in 2017, with the accompanying improvements for the downtown area. Rail crossings are being eliminated for safety’s sake in many places, and bridges are replacing them in others.
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Trains are being added to that Raleigh-Charlotte route that now serves an astonishing 450,000 travelers a year. Not that many years ago, many people would have scoffed at that notion.
But highways have become more choked, and younger generations of drivers increasingly don’t seem to be in any hurry to get their licenses. So the rail option has become more attractive. One now can imagine the day when young people in Raleigh will go to a business obligation in Greensboro or Charlotte by rail, get a cab (or perhaps take their own bicycles off the train) and then come home by train later.
Ideally, North Carolina would be developing high-speed rail (which is not where the state’s focus is now) in line with President Obama’s stated intention six years ago to encourage such projects with an infusion of federal money. The idea was a national network of high-speed trains. North Carolina got over $500 million.
And as Siceloff reports, the fact that the state isn’t hurrying to focus on high-speed rail could be a blessing. California, for example, is concentrating on high-speed rail (understandable, given the state’s long coastline), but the cost is absolutely mind-boggling at $68 billion “and counting,” Siceloff writes. North Carolina could expect its own light-rail and high-speed rail projects to escalate in cost if the state were in that business right now.
It’s unfortunate, of course, that the state’s political leaders, and that includes Republicans and Democrats, were not blessed with more foresight years ago regarding rail, when projects would have been less expensive. But for now, progress is progress, and the state is moving in the right direction. Faster.