Raleigh to NYC by high speed train? New federal funding could make it a reality.

President Joe Biden offers his granddaughter Finnegan Biden a hand as she steps off a train car during an event to mark Amtrak’s 50th anniversary at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia, Friday, April 30, 2021. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

By Michael McElroy

December 8, 2023

A new $1.1 billion grant to improve the commute from Raleigh to Richmond is part of a larger push that could connect many rural communities in the state to the country’s biggest economic hubs. 

More North Carolinians are riding passenger trains than ever before and a new federal grant could help those numbers grow even higher. 

New funding from the Biden administration’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law could help boost the transit system in North Carolina, establishing the prospects of high-speed train service from Charlotte all the way to Boston.

The North Carolina and Virginia Departments of Transportation have been awarded a $1.09 billion grant that will help replace the currently laborious passenger train route between Raleigh and Richmond with a more direct, high-speed rail. Add that money to the more than $16 billion in recent federal investments across the whole Northeast corridor, and a weekend trip from Raleigh to New York City could soon be a high-speed train away.  

The overall effects will be far-reaching, but the grant itself is focused on a single connection between North Carolina and Virginia’s capital cities. 

The only train from Raleigh to Richmond currently available, an Amtrak, requires the passenger to first go south to Selma before heading north. The trip takes between three and a half and four hours depending on the day. The new route, expected to be ready to roll by 2030, will be a relatively straight Northeast diagonal between the cities, shaving an hour or so off the commute.

The new route will run along the S-Line freight tracks operated by the railway company CSX, including a long stretch that had been discontinued and is now full of weeds.

The S-line, Gov. Roy Cooper said on Friday, “is a critical project that will provide fast, frequent and reliable service connecting North Carolina, Virginia and the Northeast.”

It will, he added, extend “our already popular passenger rail service between Charlotte and Raleigh, and [provide] people, especially those in underserved areas, a safe, convenient and inexpensive way to get where they’re going.”

The new grant was first announced on Wednesday by Sen. Thom Tillis, a North Carolina Republican who voted for the infrastructure law. Tillis said the new grant was “a big win for economic development in the region.”

The Biden administration has made rail improvements a huge part of their plans to revive the country’s aging and crumbling infrastructure, focusing on improving the safety, reliability, and efficiency of train travel in the United States.

A vibrant passenger rail system helps solve lots of problems on the local and national level, the Biden administration says.

These investments will help increase mobility, especially in rural areas, and link previously isolated communities to key corridors, spurring both economic development and new jobs, the National Association of Railroad Passengers adds. 

More than 1.2 North Carolinians utilized passenger trains in 2023, according to Amtrak’s most recent figures, an increase of more than 35% the year before.

The Biden administration also announced other big rail spending on Friday.

The infrastructure bill will provide more than $7 billion for nine other rail projects across the country, including in California, Chicago and Nevada. The money will also cover a study of potential high-speed routes from Charlotte to Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, the busiest in the world. 

Author

  • Michael McElroy

    Michael McElroy is Cardinal & Pine's political correspondent. He is an adjunct instructor at UNC-Chapel Hill's Hussman School of Journalism and Media, and a former editor at The New York Times.

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