Southeast High Speed Rail Corridor

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Corridor as designated by the Federal Railroad Administration

The Southeast High Speed Rail Corridor (SEHSR) is a passenger rail transportation project in the United States to extend high-speed passenger rail services from Washington, D.C. south through Richmond, Petersburg with a spur to Norfolk[1] (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.[2]



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.[3]


CSX's main "A" (red) and "S" (blue) lines. Note the removed track from Centralia, Virginia to Norlina, North Carolina, indicated by the dashed line.

The portion of the proposed Corridor from Richmond to Raleigh travels along the old Seaboard Air Line Railroad main line, now CSX's S line, which generally parallels US 1. This line sees much less intensive service than when the famous Orange Blossom Special traveled at speeds in excess of 79 mph between Richmond and Jacksonville, Florida, and the quality of the tracks has declined. In fact, the tracks were entirely removed along the S line between Centralia, Virginia and Norlina, North Carolina in the late 1980s in favor of CSX's A line, which largely runs parallel to I-95 and passes east of Raleigh through Rocky Mount, Wilson, and Fayetteville. The A line is currently used for Amtrak service; it provides a more direct route to Florida than the S line, but adds over an hour to the travel time from Richmond to Raleigh, as trains proceed south along the A line to Selma then back northwest along the North Carolina Railroad to Raleigh. The relative absence of freight trains along the S line will mean that significant curve straightening and other work can be accomplished without disrupting current service.

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 traveling a shorter distance along the more direct S line and the planned speed increases thereon.

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.[4] 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.[5]


The segment of the corridor from Raleigh to Charlotte travels along currently operational lines of the North Carolina Railroad, roughly parallel to I-85. The portion of the route from Raleigh to Greensboro is over the H-line, while the Greensboro to 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.[6] The PIP projects include restoring complete double-track from Greensboro to Charlotte, straightening several curves, closing crosses, and building bridges to separate train and highway movements, and are all scheduled to be completed by 2017.

Richmond–Norfolk (Hampton Roads spur)[edit]

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,[7] 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.[1]

Further south[edit]

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.[8]


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.[9]

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.[10] 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.[11]

Western Virginia[edit]

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.[12]

American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Stimulus)[edit]

On January 28, 2010, the White House announced that Southeast Corridor would receive $620 Million of its request.[13] 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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "High-speed rail to Hampton Roads one step closer". The Virginian-Pilot. 1 September 2012. 
  2. ^ "Project History". Southeast High Speed Rail Corridor. April 2010. 
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^ North Carolina Comprehensive State Rail Plan, Draft
  6. ^
  7. ^ "Amtrak rolls out ticket prices for Norfolk". Norfolk Virginian-Pilot. 30 August 2012. Retrieved 30 August 2012. 
  8. ^ "High-speed rail from Atlanta to Jacksonville feasible, study says". The Florida Times Union. June 20, 2012. 
  9. ^ "Executive Summary: Atlanta Birmingham Corridor" (PDF). Tier 1 EIS. Georgia Department of Transportation. Retrieved 8 November 2012. 
  10. ^ "Study: High-speed trains across South are feasible". The Miami Herald. June 21, 2012. 
  11. ^ "US High Speed Rail Network Map". US High Speed Rail Association. Retrieved June 22, 2012. 
  12. ^ Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (2011). "Amtrak Virginia". 
  13. ^ "Fact Sheet: High Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program: Charlotte - Raleigh - Richmond - Washington, D.C.". Retrieved 2010-01-28. 

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