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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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