Jan 10, 2023 - News

Commuter rail system's financial and engineering headaches

An Amtrak train stops in downtown Durham. Photo: Zachery Eanes/Axios

Rising costs are limiting how quickly a potential commuter rail system could be implemented in the Triangle, according to a feasibility study released last week by GoTriangle, the region's transportation authority that would operate the system.

  • The study found that the proposed Greater Triangle Commuter Rail, a roughly 40-mile line that would stretch from Durham to Johnston County, would cost $3.2 billion to build — a significant increase from its initial $2 billion estimate.

Why it matters: That price tag means the region would need a phased approach to building commuter rail, the study found, as Wake and Durham counties don't generate enough in transit taxes to meet their share of the project's cost.

  • Public transportation is a high priority for local leaders who worry that the region's fast-growing population will lead to a traffic congestion nightmare, significantly impacting the area's quality of life and mobility.
  • The entire line could generate between 12,000 and 18,000 trips a day by 2040, according to GoTriangle.
A map of the proposed rail line with 15 planned stops. Photo: GoTriangle feasibility study.

Details: The study highlights three potential phases, all of which have varying forms of hurdles to completion.

The Eastern section, from Raleigh Union Station to Auburn station in Garner, would be the cheapest and easiest section to complete ($600-$700 million).

  • But the project still cannot extend into Clayton until Johnston County commits funding.

The Central section, from downtown Raleigh through Cary to Research Triangle Park, would add the most mileage and cost around $1 billion.

  • But it would require relocating the Cary Amtrak station and potentially waiting on a roadwork to be completed at several crossings.
  • Additionally, GoTriangle would need to sign agreements to share railways with freight and Amtrak traffic.
  • The study suggests focusing on the central and eastern legs first.

The Western section, RTP to West Durham, would cost the most money and take the longest to build, and the study suggests implementing it last.

  • It would cost $1.6 billion — a price tag outside of the current Durham transit plan's budget — and take 12 years to build.
  • This section needs three miles of double railroad track west of the West Durham station and potentially a second track through Central Durham to prevent conflicts with freight traffic.
  • The East Durham station would also require the closure of Plum Street and potentially Driver Street.

GoTriangle is accepting public input through Feb. 19.


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