A $1 billion grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) will expand passenger rail between Raleigh, North Carolina and Richmond, Virginia.
The funds, announced this week from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, will provide 80% of the cost for the new line. North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) and Amtrak will fund the remainder.
The money will allow North Carolina and Virginia to purchase a freight rail route called the S-Line between Tampa, Florida and Richmond from freight rail operator CSX Transportation. The Raleigh to Richmond (R2R) route will span 162 miles as a critical line for the federal Southeast Corridor, which connects Washington, D.C., with Charlotte, North Carolina.
The DOT’s Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has considered this route since the early 1990s as a way to improve mobility and offer passengers alternatives to Interstate 85 and I-95.
“This $1 billion grant for North Carolina to make progress on the Raleigh to Richmond Rail Line is a big win for economic development in the region,” U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis said in a news release.
In 2022, the FRA awarded the NCDOT $57.9 million for survey and preliminary engineering work on the R2R route project.
The FRA is also funding efforts to study additional passenger rail options in the Eastern U.S. through its Corridor Identification and Development (ID) program, which studies intercity passenger rail. Elected officials announced several corridor ID grants of $500,000 this week.
One of those grants would help develop the scope, schedule and cost of the Sunbelt-Atlantic Connector, which would link Atlanta with Chattanooga, Nashville and Memphis in Tennessee.
“Once this service is in operation, much of the country will be accessible by rail from Memphis. This is a very big deal, and I look forward to working with stakeholders in all of the route’s proposed cities to continue to move this project forward,” said U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, whose district serves the Memphis area.
Passenger rail is key for the city’s multimodal mobility goals to connect major Southern cities, Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly said. Funds would help take the first step toward bringing passenger rail back to Chattanooga.
“There aren’t many places in America whose history is as closely tied to rail travel as Chattanooga’s, and today’s announcement is a promising sign that the railroad will continue to be an important part of our future,” he said in a news release.
Other corridor ID grants also aim to pave the way for re-establishing passenger rail and connecting cities in Pennsylvania.
One grant would allow the Schuylkill River Passenger Authority to study passenger rail between Reading and Philadelphia with stops in between. Reading has not had passenger rail for 40 years, and this grant would help the SRPRA become eligible for future federal grants to implement the project.
“This is a huge step towards finally bringing passenger rail back to the Schuylkill River Valley. In my view, the more trains and public transportation options for Pennsylvanians, the better,” U.S. Sen. John Fetterman said in a news release.
In northern Pennsylvania, another corridor ID grant will study re-establishing passenger rail between Scranton and New York City after being discontinued since 1970. The track also fell into disrepair after being unused and will require substantial funding to restore the route.
“Bringing passenger rail service back to my hometown and to our region will be a game-changing force for our economy, our families, and our communities,” U.S. Sen. Bob Casey said in a news release.
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Photo Courtesy of the North Carolina Department of Transportation.