North Carolina needs better regional connections
North Carolina is a keystone state for rail service linking cities and towns in the north and southeast of the U.S. With fast-growing cities like Charlotte and Raleigh and several important institutions in the Research Triangle, as well as the second-largest financial hub in the country, the Tar Heel State is in an excellent position for better, more frequent rail connections.
A long-term growth program, outlined over several state rail plans, combined with steady progress, is the key to their current success.
A true federal program with substantial resources is needed for the state’s full potential to be realized, but North Carolina is working to overcome this by creating a compact with Virginia. A recent federal grant will help accelerate progress.
Currently North Carolina’s major cities and employment hubs are served by two state-supported Amtrak routes:
- The Piedmont runs five daily roundtrips between Charlotte and Raleigh
- The Carolinian, which runs once daily between New York City and Charlotte
Between these two services, North Carolina achieved record ridership in 2022, with more than 520,000 riders. Despite these successes, work is still needed to optimize the North Carolina passenger-rail network.
The state is also served by two inter-regional routes linking New York and Florida, and one connecting New York to Atlanta and New Orleans.
Building on recent successes
Over the last 30 years, the North Carolina DOT has partnered with Norfolk Southern to improve 317 miles of the state-owned North Carolina Railroad Company.
Investments included improving track conditions and adding capacity for both passengers and freight. The state’s “sealed corridor” initiative focused on separating highway crossings and making the remaining level crossings safer. These investments have put North Carolina in an excellent position for future services and physical infrastructure improvements.
The investments are paying off
Annual ridership on state-supported and intercity Amtrak routes in North Carolina continues to grow, surpassing pre-pandemic levels with the highest ridership in the state’s history. The addition of a fifth Piedmont train between Raleigh and Charlotte in 2023 will further ridership growth and make taking the train an increasingly viable option in the Tar Heel State.
Exciting Moves on the Horizon
Guided by the state’s 2015 Comprehensive State Rail Plan, improvements to existing infrastructure, increased levels of service, new routes, and stations are coming in North Carolina. Seven routes were recently accepted into the FRA’s Corridor ID Program.
The Charlotte Gateway Station Project will move the Amtrak station from its current suburban location into Uptown Charlotte. With multimodal connections, accessible platforms, improved on-site services, and close proximity to Charlotte’s central business district, this project will vastly improve passenger rail service in Charlotte.
North Carolina and Virginia are cooperating on expanding service.
Georgia has completed initial design work on a new high-speed line linking Atlanta and Charlotte.
The Richmond to Raleigh Project is a collaboration between North Carolina and Virginia to develop the currently out-of-service S-Line corridor for future high-performance rail service.
The country needs an Interstate Railway Program, like the Interstate Highway Program, to take full advantage of the community, economic, and environmental benefits of trains.
Please join with us in asking Congress to create a national railway program to re-connect America with fast, frequent, and affordable trains.