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Cornelius News

I-77 fiasco spurs talk about commuter rail; Gilroy, railroad still opposed; New study will cost $728,000


April 19By Dave Vieser. It’s not dead yet. So says Davidson Mayor John Woods about the Red Line commuter rail project. Woods, who also serves as vice chairman of the Metropolitan Transit Council, discussed the project at the April meeting of the Lake Norman Regional Transportation Commission.

“If there is a silver lining in all the controversy swirling around the I77 toll lanes, it’s that some people are expressing a renewed interest in mass transit as a viable North Corridor option,” Woods said. “Transit in this case could be enhanced buses, a commuter rail line, or perhaps a combination of the two.”

RELATED: North Corridor Commuter Rail Project Land Use and Econimic Development Analysis

The idea for bringing a commuter rail line to the Lake Norman area running on the Norfolk Southern right of way hit a major roadblock a few years back when the railroad said it would not share its tracks with a passenger rail service. This meant new tracks for the commuter line would have to be built east or west of the existing single track, making the project significantly more expensive.

The freight line runs along Hwy. 115 much of the way between Charlotte and Mooresville.

Despite that, $728,000 has been earmarked in the proposed 2017 CATS (Charlotte Area Transportation System) budget to undertake a transit options study for the North Corridor. The study is expected to take about 18 months, and should include input from a wide range of interested parties, including NCDOT, North Carolina Railroad, and Norfolk Southern Railroad, as well as officials and the public from the area towns.

While there may be renewed interest in rail, some key players remain opposed.

“In my opinion, nothing has changed from a policy judgment standpoint,” said Cornelius Commissioner Dave Gilroy. “Flexible Rapid Bus Transit (RBT) system at scale and driverless cars are the future solutions on this corridor. The Red Line never made common sense since less than 3 percent of commuters would ride the train routinely.”

Gilroy has been an opponent of the rail concept from the start, while other officials in the region have taken more of a wait and see attitude. However, little is likely to happen unless Norfolk Southern changes its tune, which is apparently not about to happen anytime soon.

In a statement issued April 14, spokeswoman Susan M. Terpay said their freight route is a key back-up route should the railroad not have access to the state-owned NCRR line.

“This rail line is of significant strategic value for Norfolk Southern freight rail operations so we cannot compromise our ability to serve customers by sharing the line with a commuter operation,” she said.

Nonetheless, the 18 month-long CATS study is slated to begin this summer, if the MTC approves their proposed 2017 budget.