Mar 4, 2021 - News

Sustain Charlotte launches an effort to gain public support for a train to Lake Norman

light rail station view of uptown

light rail station view of uptown

Local nonprofit Sustain Charlotte launched a petition urging Norfolk Southern to share its tracks for a Red Line commuter line that would connect Lake Norman towns to Uptown.

Why it matters: North Mecklenburg towns want a 25-mile passenger train, and have said they won’t support the region’s lofty transit goals without it. But light rail is expensive. So Charlotte transit leaders have proposed instead sharing tracks with Norfolk Southern. [Go deeper]

  • But Norfolk, which uses the tracks from Charlotte to Lake Norman to ship anything from industrial equipment to Amazon orders, hasn’t budged on the matter.
  • The railroad operator doesn’t co-mingle passenger with freight, spokesperson Jeff DeGraff told me last month. 

Zoom out: A Lake Norman commuter rail would be part of Charlotte’s “transformational mobility network.” The network could cost up to $12 billion and would pay for everything from light rail to bike lanes.

Sustain Charlotte’s petition is meant to educate residents that there’s a solution to the Red Line conundrum, says Shannon Binns, the organization’s executive director. As of Wednesday afternoon, it had nearly 500 signatures.

“There hasn’t been a public push, a chance for individual citizens to express their desire for passenger rail for the Red Line,” Binns said. “This is an opportunity for people to speak up for themselves.”

The petition outlines a number of advantages of a commuter train:

  • Driving produces 36% of the greenhouse gas emissions in Charlotte.
  • Before the pandemic, nearly 47,000 people commuted between Iredell County, North Mecklenburg and the City of Charlotte. By 2050, that number will grow to 80,000, the organization says.

What they’re saying: “We’d like to see Norfolk Southern realize that they have a responsibility to the larger community in which they operate, especially given that the state of North Carolina allows them to lease a critical set of state-owned tracks,” Binns said.

Norfolk Southern acknowledged the petition. “We recognize the interest and concerns of the community,” DeGraff said, declining to comment further.

State of play: The city of Charlotte has drafted a letter along with the mayors of North Mecklenburg towns requesting a meeting with Norfolk Southern. It’s not clear, though, when (or if) that will happen.

Furthermore, Huntersville Mayor John Aneralla tells me he spoke with Norfolk Southern officials this week. They remain adamant about not sharing their tracks, he added. “I’m not sure it’s going to be the best use of anyone’s time,” he said of a meeting between railroad and local officials.


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