High-Speed Rail thru Raleigh: What route? At what price?

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Our topic tonight: The public hearing Monday in Raleigh on the proposed Southeast High-Speed Rail (SEHSR) project. The hearing is at the Raleigh Convention Center, 7 p.m., preceded by an open house from 5-7 p.m. I recommend, if you're going — and you should go if the subject of Raleigh's transit future is of any interest to you — that you also take up Norfolk-Southern's offer of free food at their rail yard Saturday, 4-8 p.m. Read on for why I say that. The rail yard is at 1500 Carson Street. See also this position statement from the Downtown Living Advocates (DLA):

DLA_TrainPosition.pdf

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I could say there are a lot of moving parts to the question of Raleigh's transit future, but this is no laughing matter. The local transit system — Triangle Transit — was always comin' through the center of Raleigh (still is, if it ever comes), but the TTA never thought it needed to close the downtown streets for its trains to get through safely. That would defeat the purpose of transit, yes? Lights, action, crossing gates were though to be sufficient.

But suddenly, the long-planned, long-delayed, widely supported but never well-understood Southeast High-Speed Rail (SEHSR) project apparently is going to happen ... and it's going to come through the center of Raleigh as well. And because it's "high speed" — even though, in the center of Raleigh, it won't be moving any faster than the TTA transit trains would be moving — the SEHSR planners seem to have their heart set on closing West Jones Street right in the middle of the Glenwood South district.

Closing, as in: A big wall on both sides of the tracks to keep cars from crossing the tracks and pedestrians from crossing the tracks.

(And if a pedestrian bridge were to be built over the wall(s), as has been suggested, it would need to be at least 24 feet above any railroad car passing below. Picture that w-a-a-y up in the air the next time you're walking from Glenwood Avenue to the 42nd Street Oyster Bar.)

And closing Jones Street is best-case.

Only Jones Street would be closed, you see, if the SEHSR line uses the Norfolk-Southern rail corridor, which cuts through Glenwood South and then continues north out of Raleigh on the west side of Capital Boulevard. (By the Glenwood-Brooklyn neighborhood, in other words.)

But folks, Norfolk Southern is dead set against this system using its corridor. That's why they're having that picnic Saturday at their rail yard — see above — to feed us some hot dogs and impress upon us how much they don't want this thing in their way. And unless I'm missing something, N-S can probably veto this project if they dig their heels in deep enough.

Which means the SEHSR line may have to use the CSX Railroad corridor, which also cuts through Glenwood South (at one point, the N-S and CSX lines are right next to each other) but then runs out of Raleigh to the north on the east side of Capital Boulevard. (The tracks at Logan's Garden Supply — the old Seaboard Station — are in the CSX corridor.)

According to the state and city officials I've spoken with, CSX is amenable to having the high-speed rail line in its corridor (but it will want money — 'natch) and in fact the TTA line was always — and is still — slated to go in the CSX corridor, part of which the TTA purchased some years ago.

But if the CSX corridor is used for the SEHSR line — and if SEHSR's planners continue to insist that wherever its railroad tracks cross a street at grade, that street must be closed — then three streets would be closed to traffic: Jones Street; Harrington Street; and West Street.

Jones, Harrington and West streets, all closed? How would a car — or a pedestrian — get from the west side of downtown to downtown itself? Answer: Hillsborough Street or Peace Street.

The effect would be as if a highway came barreling through the downtown, cutting it apart.

And, like a highway, the SEHSR line is not taking the locals where they want to go in the Triangle. Its purpose is to take passengers to Washington, Charlotte and Atlanta at higher speeds than the slowpoke trains we have now.

The Downtown Living Advocates (name is self-explanatory) are out with a position on this question. Their answer: Use the N-S route and run the trains through Glenwood South below ground (in a tunnel) so the street doesn't have to be closed:

The DLA recommends:
• Downtown-wide quiet zones at all rail crossings
• Alternative transit alignment NC3, Norfolk Southern Tracks — see below
• Tunneling the tracks at Jones Street and parallel to Glenwood South, so as to permit
Jones Street to remain open
Given the present alternatives, the DLA strongly recommends that high speed passenger
trains follow the Norfolk Southern tracks north from Jones Street along the west side of
Capital Boulevard (alignment NC3), and is strongly opposed to the alternative that the
trains travel along the east side of Capital Boulevard, using the CSX tracks

Others in Raleigh will be there Monday to say that no streets need be closed for the high-speed rail line; instead — like the TTA's trains — the high-speed trains will be moving slowly as they approach, or leave, the Raleigh station. Closing gates would be sufficient. And a blast of the RR horn? The DLA folks don't want that.

Many moving parts. Monday.

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