The Daily Tar Heel

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Saturday March 25th

N.C. jumps on infrastructure train

Train delays might get a little shorter as the N.C. Department of Transportation enacts a plan to improve freight and passenger railroads in the state over the next 25 years.

The plan aims to expand mass transit options and their economic benefits as well as improve the current railways between military bases and ports, according to the Comprehensive State Rail Plan.

“The rail plan is an extremely extensive and comprehensive program,” said Paul Worley, rail division director with NCDOT.

Changes to the railway system will come in the form of 13 new bridges, the closure of several train crossings and the addition of 32 miles of second track — which will allow adjacent train traffic to proceed in both directions.

Worley said under the new program, he expects the current $1.88 billion direct impact on the state economy to increase.

Reductions in emissions and pollution costs, as well as a decreased number of auto accidents, will further reduce indirect costs of the railway program.

The money for the new railways comes from a stimulus grant of more than $546 million made by President Barack Obama in 2010.

While this might seem like a delayed use of funds, Worley said the project is moving quickly.

“We had to spend a couple of years negotiating with the railroads because we did not want to start on the project (until) the rail companies made a strong commitment,” he said.

Worley also said railroad expansion, in the short term, created new jobs tied to building and repairing. But the long-term ramifications of the program are even more impactful for the N.C. job market.

He said he hopes the easier train travel will provide better access to jobs and opportunities for citizens that would have been impossible otherwise.

The program benefits the state as a whole but also goes a long way towards benefitting communities through the closing of crossings as well as the redoing of stations at Salisbury and Burlington, he said.

Worley said positive impacts of the expansion are perhaps even more relevant in the communities where train stations have been remodeled.

Haleigh Prysock, UNC sophomore, said the current rail situation is dangerous to her hometown of Burlington — where she said elevated tracks can be difficult for inexperienced drivers to navigate. 

“Even though the option is there, I never use the train because the station is so inconvenient to drive to," she said. "You have to take a very roundabout way."

The program hopes to combat inconveniences, such as these at stations, to encourage more people to use public transportation.

“This program is a step in the right direction for the future of passenger rail,” Worley said.

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