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Monday, August 31, 2009

N.C. DOT seeks to ease rail logjams

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State transportation engineers are preparing a series of railroad track improvements they hope will ease bottlenecks for ever-increasing rail traffic in central Charlotte, N.C., the Charlotte Observer reports. The N.C. Department of Transportation wants to make upgrades to a 10-mile stretch of Norfolk Southern track from near Charlotte-Douglas International Airport to Orr Road in northeast Charlotte.

Alongside that project would come a smaller but more dramatic change: Separating the Norfolk Southern and CSX Transportation lines where they intersect near the Interstate 77-85 interchange and running the CSXT line underneath the Norfolk Southern one in a 3,400-foot trough.

Taken together, it's a big project, one for which engineers won't have a cost estimate until after they gauge its effects on area creeks, soil and other environmental concerns, said Marc Hamel, an environmental engineer for the DOT's Rail Division. It could be five years before the department actually begins work, Hamel said.

But the purpose is to relieve freight train traffic jams. The Norfolk Southern line in Charlotte is the busiest freight line in the state, with about 60 trains per day. Highway congestion and high fuel prices have led many freight companies to ship more by rail, adding to the congestion. The improvements also would aid a plan to move Amtrak's current terminal on North Tryon Street back to its former site uptown, clearing the way for more passenger rail service.

Other benefits: With less congestion, trains wouldn't have to blow their horns as often, and less time idling on the tracks would make for better air quality, Hamel said.

A few railroad crossings would have to be closed, said Travis Pollack, a Charlotte-based planner for the project's engineering firm, Gannett Fleming. But none of them carry much traffic, and the city plans to route main streets such as 36th Street and Sugar Creek Road under or over the tracks, Pollack said.

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