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Obstacles Slow Raleigh-to-Richmond Rail Line Plans

The abandoned railroad corridor that has become the American Tobacco Trail.
Durham Trails and Greenways 2011 Master Plan

Lawmakers are considering an incremental plan to build faster rail lines between Raleigh and Richmond. While officials in North Carolina and Virginia had hoped a high-speed rail might be feasible between the two capitals, funding obstacles remain in the way.

One major  challenge is creating grade separation, keeping tracks from crossing existing roads. The basic tracks that cross over regular roads are limiting.

"You never reach a higher speed than 79 mph," said North Carolina Rep. Bill Brawlyer, who co-chairs the commission working on the rail project.

"With grade separation, you can go as high as 110. But true high-speed rail, 200 miles per hour, plus, you basically need to build it from scratch."

A grade-separation plan could cost as much as 4 billion dollars. Instead, the states plan to work together to straighten out existing lines, and to rebuild rails that were removed decades ago for a much lower cost.

"It's a more direct route that used to exist that shut down and had the rails pulled up over the last few years," said Brawley "And we're trying to get that rebuilt, and that's going to be a fairly expensive proposition and is not yet funded."

Lawmakers are also in the early stages of discussing a high-speed line between downtown Charlotte and downtown Atlanta. The project could require billions of dollars and coordination between three different states.

The Raleigh to Richmond line is still undergoing environmental review and is many years away from completion.

Stories, features and more by WUNC News Staff. Also, features and commentary not by any one reporter.
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