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Wilmington-Raleigh Passenger Rail Corridor In Running For Federal Dollars

By Jenny Callison, posted Mar 28, 2023
The plan for passenger rail linking Wilmington and Raleigh could be on track soon, thanks to a new federal initiative, the Corridor Identification and Development Program.
The Corridor ID Program is seen as “a comprehensive intercity passenger rail planning and development program that will help guide intercity passenger rail development throughout the country and create a pipeline of . . . projects ready for implementation,” according to the Federal Railroad Administration, which oversees it.
The proposal for a rail corridor carrying passengers between Wilmington and Raleigh is one of many received by the NC Department of Transportation’s Rail Division.
“We have received interest in this program from all over the state: from Asheville, from Wilmington, and from many places in between,” Rail Division director Jason Orthner said last Friday. “We’ve gotten nearly 50 letters of support from across the state and we’re including those in our applications to the FRA. It shows the breadth of interest.
“The FRA will go through a selection process based on how well the [proposed] corridors meet its criteria,” he added. “Sometime this year the FRA will announce the corridors selected in the first round. Corridors that are not selected can reapply next year.”  

Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo said construction of a passenger rail line linking Wilmington with the state capital would be a major plus for the region. It's also a program backed by the N.C. Metro Mayors' Coalition, of which he is vice chair.

"We are making a push as a community, just like Asheville is in the western part of the state, for rail to be extended to this part of the state," Saffo said recently. "We were a railroad city for many, many years with the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad here.

"Our primary mission in the last many years has been commercial rail, freight and cargo. But passenger rail is also extremely important to us. We’re pushing for it, and we will be passing resolutions in support."

The Corridor ID Program is part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, also known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which President Joe Biden signed into law in November 2021. Planners for each intercity route selected will be given $500,000 to take the first step: the creation of a project scope, schedule and cost estimate for putting together the next step, a service development plan. Any of the $500,000 not used can be applied to money left over can be applied to the service development plan phase.
The service development plan must state the purpose of and show the need for the proposed corridor, and analyze alternatives. It also must provide conceptual engineering. The federal government will provide 90% of the funding for this step.
Corridor planners whose service development plans meet requirements then tackle actual project development to prepare the project for implementation. There may be as much as 80% federal funding for this phase.
“These steps may take some time to develop,” Orthner said. “The intent of the FRA is, as long as there continues to be progress made [on a corridor project selected], it will compete for funds to reach more steps in the process. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill is the first time you see that kind of funding built into a program for rail."
NCDOT’s Rail Division is also working with its counterpart in Virginia to return to service a portion of the S-Line, a CSX freight line running from Richmond, Virginia to Tampa, Florida. The out-of-service segment runs from Petersburg, Virginia to Raleigh and used to carry both freight and passenger trains before it was sidelined. Rail Division officials hope to make this corridor a key part of a system of new corridors.

“Our goal,” said Orthner, “is to tie everything in North Carolina together and connect it to core routes.”
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