RALEIGH, N.C. — The North Carolina Department of Transportation has reached a deal to deploy its high speed rail funds in the Raleigh-Charlotte, N.C., corridor, the Raleigh News & Observer has reported. The deal is a victory for the Obama administration’s nationwide high speed rail plan, and is the second such agreement inked over the past month.
The agreement has been reached between the state, Norfolk Southern, the North Carolina Railroad, and Amtrak, with the blessing of the Federal Railroad Administration. It clears way for the federal government to issue $461 million in grants for faster, more reliable train service between North Carolina’s two largest cities. Gene Conti, the state’s secretary of transportation, said the state will begin soliciting bids over the next two weeks.
The money will add 28 miles of double track between Charlotte and Greensboro, N.C., plus five miles of passing sidings between Greensboro and Raleigh. Curves will be straightened to enable faster speeds. Initially, the upgrades will cut 13 minutes from transit times, but plans call for trains to eventually reach 90 mph, which would cut another 12 to 15 minutes.
States and railroads have been gradually navigating the process of reaching agreements on high speed rail funds. The railroads have resisted agreements that might cut into freight train capacity, while the FRA has resisted approving agreements that it feels don’t go far enough to guarantee that passenger trains arrive on time. On Feb. 25, BNSF Railway and the Washington state Department of Transportation reached an agreement for upgrades to Seattle-Portland, Ore., services.
Meanwhile, other states have been rejecting federal funds outright. Anti-rail governors who won elections in Florida, Ohio, and Wisconsin have shut down work on projects in their states. The Washington and North Carolina agreements represent big victories for high speed rail supporters.