NCDOT officials present update on S-line corridor project

Mar. 17—HENDERSON — Officials from the North Carolina Department of Transportation gave an update on the S-Line Corridor project to Vance County Commissioners last Monday.

"The key component to making this whole [passenger railway] system in our state successful is one very strategic corridor," explained NCDOT Rail Division Director Jason Orthner, "and that is the corridor linking Raleigh to Richmond through Vance County. That is a key and one of the most strategic corridors because what it does is provides a high frequency route that connects North Carolina to Virginia and the rest of the East Coast."

Here's where the project is at, according to Orthner.

— "We've been working working diligently with CSX on a corridor acquisition. We anticipate that to be very mature and advance sometime this year," said Orthner. CSX, a transportation company, owns the corridor currently.

— "We're working on service development, the details of train schedules and what trains go where and how."

— "We're already beginning the field surveying of the corridor, to make sure that we've got the base mapping necessary to do the detailed design."

— "We've been working with communities all up and down the corridor, and we'll continue to do that and are committed to do that."

— "Then, we're working on the details of engineering. We have 162 miles of railroad design that we're working on, as well as 82 miles of roadway design to deconflict the roadway system and the railroad system."

— "We're developing and submitting grants under discretionary programs. The bipartisan infrastructure law provides a lot of additional funding for rail, and we're looking for North Carolina to really take its competitive share of that with one of the most competitive projects in the nation."

Orthner is an engineer by background, so he got into the nitty-gritty of the project design.

"We are looking at a very advanced corridor," he said, "we're developing one of the most advanced rail corridors in the country right here..."

The corridor, once finished, would connect Wake, Franklin and Vance counties with speeds of up to 110 miles per hour. Ninety-one new grade separations, concrete ties and high speed switches would keep trains and other vehicles from conflicting. High level platforms would allow people to board right onto the train rather than stepping up into it. The travel time between Richmond and Raleigh would be around two to two and a quarter hours; Henderson to Washington, D.C. would be around three and a half hours.

Orthner shared some of the project's next steps. Four grade separation projects in Wake County are funded.

"But we're not stopping there," said Orthner. Preparing and submitting grant applications for the project, continuing consulting with communities along the corridor and stakeholders like Amtrak, freight railroads and the state of Virginia and expediting the Preliminary Engineering Program to get construction documents complete are all on the rail division's radar at the moment, said Orthner.

They're wanting to fully develop the system between 2030 and 2031, Orthner said. But, that depends on how quickly funding comes in.

"We are looking at developing it as quickly as possible to start making these rail connections through our communities," Orthner said.

After a transit-oriented development study, which was partly funded by Henderson, concludes in this spring, the NCDOT will begin studying the feasability of mobility hubs, said Ryan Brumfield, director of the department's Integrated Mobility Division. They're a rail station with a bit more — businesses, event spaces, community services and so forth.

"Think of it more as an activity center for the community," said Brumfield, "that also happens to be where the rail station is and where other modes of transportation come together."

The hubs, alongside transit-oriented developments around them, are intended to bring more vibrancy to and maximize the benefits of the rail service in communities in which they're located, said Brumfield.

"We continue to see success in the corridor, we continue to see the support of the USDOT," said Orthner. "... and why invest? One thing that we're seeing in the region significantly, and even Vance County is seeing this come its way, is significant growth in our state."