Southeast High Speed Rail Corridor
The Southeast High Speed Rail Corridor (SEHSR) is a passenger rail transportation project in the Southern United States to extend high-speed passenger rail services from Washington, D.C. south through Richmond, Petersburg with a spur to Norfolk (the Hampton Roads region) in Virginia through Raleigh, Durham, Greensboro and south to Charlotte in North Carolina and connect with the existing high-speed rail corridor from D.C. to Boston, Massachusetts known as the Northeast Corridor. Since first established in 1992, the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) has extended the corridor to Atlanta, Georgia and Macon, Georgia; Greenville, South Carolina; Columbia, South Carolina; Jacksonville, Florida; and Birmingham, Alabama.
Most funding for the SEHSR to date has been by the USDOT and the states of North Carolina and Virginia. Both states already fund some non-high-speed rail service operated for them by Amtrak, and own locomotives and passenger cars. The first large section of the SEHSR, from Washington, D.C. through Virginia and North Carolina south to Charlotte, is due to begin service sometime between 2018 and 2022, based on funding availability.
The D.C. to Richmond segment of the proposed Corridor travels along 123 miles of CSX track currently used by CSX freight trains, non-high-speed Amtrak trains, and the VRE commuter rail's Fredericksburg Line. The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation is currently performing a Tier II Environmental Impact Statement for upgrading this segment, with an aim of increasing train frequency and cutting the current travel time by thirty minutes. $75 million in federal funding issued in September 2012 paid for construction of a third main track in Stafford and Prince William counties, while Virginia's Atlantic Gateway infrastructure project funded additional main tracks in two segments in Fairfax County.
Between Richmond and Raleigh, the corridor uses the CSX S line (the former Seaboard Air Line main line), which generally parallels US 1. The tracks on the segment of this line between Centralia, Virginia and Norlina, North Carolina were removed in the late 1980s and through traffic shifted to the CSX A line (the former Atlantic Coast Line main line). The relative absence of freight trains along the remaining portions of the S line will mean that significant curve straightening and other work can be accomplished without disrupting current service. As part of Atlantic Gateway, Virginia will take control of the abandoned S Line right-of-way between Petersburg and the North Carolina border in 2017.
The S line also provides a more direct route for Richmond–Raleigh trains, saving an hour versus their current routing along the A line and the North Carolina Railroad between Raleigh and Selma. (The A line does not pass through Raleigh, instead running roughly parallel to I-95 through Rocky Mount, Wilson, and Fayetteville.)
The proposed project does not include electrification of the railway, unlike in the Northeast Corridor. However, top speeds would be raised from 79 mph to 110 mph, resulting in an average speed of 85–87 mph. Travel time currently between Richmond and Raleigh on the Carolinian is close to four hours, but full implementation as proposed would reduce this to nearly two hours. The proposed two hours in time savings is nearly evenly split between the shorter distance provided by the more direct S line routing and speed increases.
The overall project cost for fully restoring and improving the S line, including the curve straightening and new bridges necessary to raise top speeds to 110 mph, has been estimated at roughly $4 billion. In response, the North Carolina-Virginia Interstate High-Speed Rail Compact Commission has proposed investigating a staged effort that would first restore the S line to its 79 mph max speed state from the 1980s, and pursue other improvements only after service was restored. This would have the benefit of reducing the travel time between Richmond and Raleigh by nearly one hour for a much lower startup cost, though it may somewhat increase the cost of performing the later improvements. The Silver Star would also travel over a restored S line, as it did before 1986, and would also see the improvement in travel time.
The segment of the corridor between Raleigh and Charlotte travels along currently operational lines of the North Carolina Railroad, roughly parallel to I-85. The portion of the route between Raleigh and Greensboro is over the H-line, while the Greensboro–Charlotte section travels along Norfolk Southern's main line. (While the lines are owned by the North Carolina Railroad, Norfolk Southern has an operational contract for trackage rights.) Both see current freight and passenger traffic (Amtrak's Carolinian and Piedmont), with freight traffic along the main line particularly heavy. However, double-tracking was removed from several sections of the Greensboro to Charlotte main line since its heyday, and significant signal upgrades, curve straightening, super-elevation, and restoration will be required to support high-speed passenger service along the corridor without interfering with freight operations.
NCDOT has worked with NS, CSX, and the NCRR to restore the double-tracking and make other incremental upgrades, a process that reduced the travel time between Raleigh and Charlotte by 35 minutes from 2001 to 2010. Since 2010, work has been proceeding under the Piedmont Improvement Project, funded by a $520 million grant under the 2009 ARRA stimulus. The PIP projects include restoring complete double-track between Greensboro and Charlotte, straightening several curves, closing crosses, and building bridges to separate train and highway movements, which are all scheduled to be completed by 2017.
Richmond–Norfolk (Hampton Roads spur)
In 1996, USDOT added a connection from Richmond east to Newport News to SEHSR. However, with the coming extension of Northeast Regional Amtrak service to Norfolk in December 2012, the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT) re-evaluated rail access to the Hampton Roads metropolitan area and on September 1, 2012 announced that while rail service from Richmond to Newport News will be maintained, the preferred high-speed corridor has been shifted to a Richmond–Petersburg–Norfolk alignment.
A feasibility study has been completed for a further extension of SEHSR from Charlotte through Spartanburg and Greenville, South Carolina to Atlanta and then Macon, Georgia. Further extensions to Savannah, Georgia, along with an extension from Raleigh through Columbia, South Carolina to Savannah and on to Jacksonville, Florida are also part of the federally designated SEHSR corridor, but those extensions have not yet been studied. All feasibility studies have suggested that synergy between parts of SEHSR and the neighboring Northeast Corridor is important. The Charlotte to Raleigh portion is predicted to be much more profitable with the corridor connected to D.C. and the Northeast Corridor. Similarly, the feasibility study found it much easier to justify the Charlotte to Atlanta and Macon route if the Charlotte to D.C. portion was completed. Atlanta is also the connecting point between SEHSR and federally designated Gulf Coast Corridor.
In June 2012, a feasibility study report presented to the State Transportation Board of Georgia indicated that a high-speed rail between Atlanta and Jacksonville would be economically feasible. Fares between Atlanta and Jacksonville would range between $119.41 and $152.24. The construction for that route would cost from $5 billion to $16 billion.
There are three routes out of Atlanta being considered for high/higher speed rail. In 2012, during the study for the Tier 1 Environmental Impact Statement, two main alternatives for higher speed rail have been considered. The first alternative is called Shared Use with top speeds of 90 mph (145 km/h) to 110 mph (177 km/h). The second alternative is called Hybrid High Performance with top speeds of 130 mph (209 km/h). There are also high-speed rail alternatives in the same study with top speeds of 180 mph (290 km/h) to 220 mph (354 km/h) or higher.
The three routes are:
For the Louisville route, a feasibility study indicated that the high-speed trains for this link would be economically feasible. The stations along the route could include Cartersville and Dalton in Georgia; Chattanooga, Murfreesboro and Nashville in Tennessee; and Bowling Green and Elizabethtown in Kentucky. Although the Atlanta-Louisville high-speed rail link is not federally designated, the link will connect two federally designated corridors, SEHSR and Chicago Hub Network. The same route has been included in the US High Speed Rail Network of the US High Speed Rail Association, a non-profit advocacy group.
Another proposed rail project, known as the Transdominion Express, would connect to SEHSR and extend from Richmond west to Lynchburg and from Washington, D.C. (Alexandria) south via an existing Virginia Railway Express route to Manassas, extending on south to Charlottesville, Lynchburg, Roanoke and Bristol on the Tennessee border.
American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Stimulus)
On January 28, 2010, the White House announced that Southeast Corridor would receive $620 Million of its request. This money is primarily for capacity upgrades along the Raleigh–Charlotte portion of the corridor (aka the Piedmont Improvement Program), along with some money for the Richmond–D.C. portion, as the Tier II Environmental Impact Statement for the important Raleigh–Richmond portion is not expected to be complete until 2015.
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