Governor Bev Perdue announced Tuesday that the development of high speed rail networks in North Carolina will create or maintain 4,800 jobs in the next four years, 1,000 of which will be seen within the coming year.
President Barack Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act awarded $545 million to the state Jan. 28 to implement high speed rail, an amount about equal to what North Carolina receives annually from the Federal Highway Trust Fund. North Carolina is among several other states to receive grant funding for this purpose.
“These rail projects are going to have far-reaching benefits for North Carolinians,” Perdue said in a statement Tuesday. “They will put people to work while providing transportation, environmental and energy benefits through reduced congestion and improved air quality.”
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson traveled to Durham Jan. 28 to announce the grant.
“I suspect [Durham was chosen for Jackson’s announcement] because Durham has done quite a bit to focus on regional and local transportation, given the renovated Amtrak station and the new Durham Station Transportation Center,” said Mayor Bill Bell, adding that both projects are located next to each other in downtown Durham, encouraging users to walk.
Pat Simmons, director of the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s rail division, said the Durham Amtrak station was representative of downtown Durham’s redevelopment, adding that the station—which was renovated last year—is located in James Buchanan Duke’s first tobacco warehouse, next to where Duke’s house once stood.
In a speech delivered at Jackson’s announcement, Rep. David Price, D-N.C., said that throughout the last 20 years, federal funding for high speed rail projects has been minimal.
In 1992, the U.S. Department of Transportation established five corridors for high speed rail in the country. One of them, the Southeast High Speed Rail Corridor, was to run between Washington, D.C. and Richmond, Va. and also link Raleigh and Charlotte. One of the SEHSR’s goals was to be connected to the high speed corridor in the northeast, connecting Boston, Mass. with Washington, D.C.
In 1996, then-governor Jim Hunt established the goal of a two-hour travel time from Charlotte to Raleigh. The grant builds on this goal, with trains reaching average speeds of 86 miles per hour.
NCDOT developed the application for funding, which was submitted Oct. 2, 2009 and had a “focus on reliability, safety and something called capacity,” Simmons said. He added that two out of five funding requests were awarded, with more to come once additional funding becomes available.
Cooperation between local and private entities and the railroads was crucial to the project, Bell said.
Part of the money is to be spent on new locomotives, renovating existing stations and building double track projects, passing sidings and bridges.
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“The problem with high speed rail is that you can’t have a high speed train traveling through curves,” Bell said.
Simmons said 150 communities across the state, as well as the full Congressional Board, sent in resolutions of support.
“This is the beginning of the program,” Simmons said. “It will help North Carolina recover from this crisis more readily. It will make infrastructure that will last for generations and will give us a good foundation as we go forward to compete in the regional and international marketplace.”