North Carolina and Norfolk Southern Railway struck an accord on how to spend $461 million in federal grant funds that will improve both freight and inter-city passenger rail service in a key part of that state.
That makes it one of the largest grant implementing agreements reached so far between states and freight railroads under the Obama administration's intercity passenger rail program. Earlier accords included a $1.2 billion grant deal between Illinois and Union Pacific Railroad, and one worth at least $590 million for Washington state and BNSF Railway.
North Carolina will spend the money mainly on double-tracking and grade separation projects between Charlotte and Greensboro, a planned bridge project at Charlotte that could separate Norfolk Southern's north-south main line from an east-west CSX line, and sidings for trains to pass each other from Greensboro to Raleigh. The state says projects funded under the agreement will create 4,800 jobs.
The North Carolina agreement was also negotiated with the Amtrak passenger rail system and the Federal Railroad Administration. The parties had been at the table for months, and in an intense phase of talks for weeks. The FRA in these negotiations tries to pin down performance standards to make sure freight operations don't keep passenger trains from hitting their on-time targets, while freight lines work to make sure their operations are not hampered by Amtrak.
But North Carolina has said from the outset that its plans for spending a total of $545 million in grants from the 2009 stimulus law would improve operations for both passenger and freight services. The state mostly owns the tracks, while NS operates on them under long-term lease. Most of the money will go into a route NS will use as part of a major new doublestack intermodal corridor
Before this week's accord, the state had already obligated about $59 million for various construction projects. It is separately negotiating to spend $25 million along CSX Transportation routes between Raleigh and the Virginia state line.
State officials will use some of the $461 million to add 28 more miles of double-tracking in the Charlotte-Greensboro lane, making that whole corridor a double-tracked route that allows both Amtrak and NS to move more smoothly. They will also buy locomotives and passenger railcars, and build bridges to eliminate a dozen roadway crossings. Those projects reduce rail and road congestion, and avoid crossing accidents that can stall rail traffic for many hours.
-- Contact John D. Boyd at email@example.com.