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Friday, December 18, 2009

Lexington, N.C., rail stop to be in place by 2015

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The Lexington, N.C., City Council heard an on progress to open a passenger rail stop in downtown Lexington, which could be operational as soon as 2015, The Dispatch reported.

William Deal, chairman of the Davidson County Passenger Rail Committee and executive director of the Tourism and Recreation Investment Partnership of Davidson County, explained the process so far. The rail committee began studying ways to encourage the N.C. Department of Transportation Rail Division to build a passenger rail stop in Lexington. City officials hoped a rail stop would encourage the redevelopment of the depot district and began efforts to lease and renovate the former freight depot and pursue funding.


Deal said the city began working with the N.C. Railroad Co., owner of the freight depot, in 2006. It was last month before the lease was finalized.


"If you do the math, that is over three years, and we understand that in railroad terms, three years is like immediate gratification," Deal said.


Using $131,500 in grant and city funds, the city will renovate the freight depot for the Lexington Farmer's Market to use in May 2010. The next step in securing an Amtrak stop in Lexington is to appeal to the NCDOT Rail Division. Deal said a passenger service impact study Amtrak performed in March 2006 estimated a Lexington depot would see a ridership of 10,300 annually. In 2007, those results prompted NCDOT Rail Division to express interest in opening a local depot. Last month, Deal said he and city officials traveled to Raleigh and spoke with NCDOT planners.


"What we were told is they expressed a commitment in their planning for a future development of their Raleigh-Charlotte passenger rail program to the establishment of an Amtrak station in Lexington," Deal said.


Deal said NCDOT also informed the group that a new depot in both Lexington and Hillsborough, long stretches of track with no local stops, were part of improvements in rail service to be completed by 2015. Plans for a high-speed rail corridor from Raleigh to Charlotte have been submitted by the NCDOT for federal stimulus money. Deal said it was not likely the corridor would be totally funded through stimulus money, but NCDOT officials assured him there would be eight passenger trains running both ways from Raleigh to Charlotte and a rail stop in Lexington by 2015.

Estimated cost to establish a stop here is $7.2 million, Deal said, which covered safety improvements, track realignment, renovation and construction of a partially covered platform. He added that stimulus money would cover all of the cost, if the project is awarded a grant. Without it, the city will likely be required to match cost, traditionally about 20 percent.

Deal said he discussed placement of a new station with NCDOT rail division officials. Placement will depend on several factors, including the city's plans to redevelop the Lexington Home Brands Plant No. 1 property and location of rail signals. Presenting the council with photos of track just over the East Center Street bridge, Deal explained that to accommodate wider tracks straddling a new platform, some excavation would have to be done under the bridge.

Much work still needs to be done, Deal said, and he recommended the city council contact representatives in Washington, D.C., to support the rail project being considered for stimulus money. The city also has the option to improve infrastructure around the railroad tracks to make the project more appealing to transportation officials.

Sharing observations made on a recent Amtrak ride to Raleigh, Deal pointed out that depots in bad parts of cities like Durham have been successfully redeveloped into thriving areas. He suggested passenger rail was the cause.

"Think about it. If it's a $7.2-million project, and if you go stand on the Center Street bridge and look down there, ask yourself when was the last time $7.2 million was spent on that area," Deal said.

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