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ONLY ON 3: Local leaders look to state to expand rail service

READ MORE: ONLY ON 3: Local leaders look to state to expand rail service
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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) -- Everyone is looking for more jobs and business to get our economy back on track. Transportation planners say one solution could be restoring a 27-mile stretch of railroad between Castle Hayne and Wallace.

Monday night New Hanover County Commissioners will consider a resolution asking the state to rebuild the tracks, which could bring a boost to the State Port and our area in general.

"It's all about jobs," New Hanover County Commission Chair Jonathan Barfield said. "When you look at the hog farmers in Duplin County and Sampson County and those particular rural areas being able to use rail coming into the Port of Wilmington to transport their product, just think what a savings that's going to be for them, but also the jobs that would be produced right here in this local area for folks who would work as longshoreman or in our state ports."

Barfield also heads the Transportation Advisory Committee, which is the regional group pushing to expand rail service in southeastern North Carolina. The committee plans to present a resolution at Monday's County Commission meeting. It claims rebuilding the old rail line would have many positive impacts on the Cape Fear, including more access to the State Port of Wilmington and the ability to move agricultural products more easily.

Barfield says opening up freight lines would also start a conversation about passenger rail.

"I think there's a certain allure to the past here, a certain amount of nostalgia involved," Wilmington Railroad Museum Director Mark Koenig said. "It certainly is pleasant to step onto a train, be able to find your comfortable seat and walk around within the passenger coach from car to car."

This will be a long process, though. Barfield says it could take 10 or 15 years. The first step is an environmental study by the state to make sure reconstruction of the tracks is even possible without harming natural habitats.

Because the project is in its infancy, Barfield says he has no idea how much it would cost, but he believes payment would be a collaboration.

"DOT for sure, but again, for those who would be using the trains coming back and forth, it would be a benefit for them as well," Barfield said. "I can see many partners coming together, not just the government, but also private as well, coming together to make this thing work."

Rep. Susi Hamilton has been pushing this project on the state level. She says although there is a rail line that runs to the state port, it crosses over two very old bridges with low weight limits. She also says big manufacturing companies have skipped coming to our area because there is not a dual line in place.

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All passenger rail has to be subsidized

Passenger rail is an unrealistic expectation because all passenger rail is subsidized by the government. Amtrak has never turned a profit.The only trains that run a significant volume are on the I95 corridor between D.C and NYC.This is still not enough revenue to offset their operating expenses elsewhere.Many of the Amtrak trains that stop in Fayetteville,Wilson and Rocky mount are half full a majority of the time.During tight budgetary constraints, this will be a hard and delusional sale to taxpayers.There is only money in freight railroads.The Interstate Highway System established by Eisenhower and a competitive airline business has permanently made passenger rail not a viable option of quick and timely travel.Passenger trains have the right of way over freight trains but it is still the slowest mode of travel.

State owned track

This 27 mile stretch of rail is owned by the state.The most cost prohibitive aspect of the project would be reconstructing the trestle at Castle Hayne.The state would unfortunately call the shots in how this project would come to fruition.The taxpayer would have to see a real value in the reinstatement of this line.CSX would not foot the bill at 100%. There would have to be something in it for them (profit).Norfolk Southern could also bid on possibly running trains to and from Morehead City and points elsewhere.Major Class I railroads interest lie in running unit trains (coal and grain)and intermodal traffic because of their profitability.When this segment of track was in place there were mom and pop customers who required rail service but were not very profitable.It is very realistic to see additional grain facilities set up shop along this 27 mile stretch due to the large agricultural makeup of these communities that require vast amounts of feed to support turkey and hog farms.This pursuit is a good way to add diversity to an econmomy, other than being recognized as a retail hub.Even though the Atlantic Coast Railroad left in the early sixties, there has always been a considerable railroad presence within a hundred miles of Wilmington that delivers goods that are not practical for the trucking industry

Thanks for your answer

I understand and mostly agree with your assessment. The only thing I can't agree with is the construction of more grain processing facilities. I can't see it, based upon the number that are already out there and working on so tight a margin. Rail could certainly improve profit margins, but would it be enough to justify moving or expanding?

My only concern is that taxpayers don't fall for spend-crazy liberals' attempt to use this as a foot in the door for light rail. Even though I'm a big believer in railroads, I'm not certain that even freight could support this line when you consider the number of processors already located and operating to use I95 and I40....and anyone with a brain knows that light rail will be nothing but a money-shredder.

Railroad

I would LOVE to see passenger rail restored from Wilmington to Raleigh. To be able to jump on a train for a day trip to Raleigh would be a great thing or for the folks in Raleigh to jump on the train to come to Wilmington for a weekend at the beach wouldn't be a bad thing either!

Also, if the day ever comes that taxpayers pay ONE SINGLE DOLLAR for a railway spur for Titan Cement, it will be the day that a full SEPA review kicks in.

If you think that day trippers could pay for this....

...you have NO concept of how much it costs to run passenger rail.

I offer you the same challenge I offer anyone - show me a light passenger rail line in the United States that supports itself solely through fares, and does not suck in millions in taxpayer money.

would you love it

if you, and every other taxpayer saw their taxes go up $2,000 annually?

Would you love a 4 hour train ride in lieu of a 2 hour car hop? That's each way.

And when you arrive

You won't have a vehicle so you will either have to take a bus or taxi everywhere. Sounds just peachy to me.

Can we do it with out the

Can we do it with out the Union. It seems that if you are Union you can get this kind of job which is not fair.Union just takes money and we need the local people to make this money for their families.

Win, win situation

I have an inside perspective on restoring the 27 mile stretch of track between Castle Hayne and Wallace,N.C. As a CSX engineer that works along the W&W subdivision that runs from Wallace to Contentnea,this is a positive economic proposal for our region. The growth along this segment of track has been significant over the years and has been a tremendous revenue generator for CSX, with about 25 % of all CSX grain revenue coming from this subdivision.It is a huge money maker for many CSX employees working out of the Davis Yard Terminal in Wilmington.People not in tune with railroad activities do not recognize the economic benefit of restoring this track.There are 6 major feed mills and a soybean mill that during peak times run 90 car trains throughout the week.The feed mills are Prestage Farms and Carrolls Farms and Calypso Farms along the Turkey Branch, which is a segment of track that runs from Warsaw to Clinton,Murphy Farms and a soybean operation at Wallace,Nash Johnson at Rose Hill and Case Farms at Mount Olive.These farms breathe economic life into Duplin and Sampson County with their presence in this region. It is how these folks survive in these rural communities.Presently, trucks are running wheat from the State Port on a daily basis, from ship overseas, due to one of the worst corn crops in years. The corn in the Midwest was devastated this year due to drought and flooding.By restoring this line, the state,CSX and Norfolk Southern could run freight and passengers along this rail corridor.In addition to running feed , military freight and mixed freight could be redirected as well, instead of running the Wilmington Subdivision. There is no money in passenger rail, therefore this is a long shot and a novelty that would wane with time. Rail freight could sustain itself economically and would promote growth along this corridor.It would benefit many entities.

As far a restoring the infrastructure, CSX is more than capable of laying rail in a more expeditious timeline than 10 to 15 years.With the state involved with their burdensome regulations ( i.e environmental impact study ),it may never get off the ground if they do indeed find something like a woodpecker occupying this right of way.A public /private venture that would be attractive to CSX would make this proposal come to fruition.CSX would have to see an economic benefit in supplying their skilled workforce during this restoration.

If CSX is willing to pay for it, go for it.

Thank you for presenting a business case for funding by private enterprise and not by the taxpayers, and emphasizing once again to the people who simply don't understand it (be they congresswomen, county commissioners, or Occupy Anything protestors) that companies have to see "economic benefit" before launching these projects.

"Economic benefit" and common sense never enter the picture when you are a politician seeking to buy votes.

I have a question for you - do you still own the right-of-way over the entire run?

For the 900th time

If there was money to be made, CSX would extend the line, The tracks went idle for a reason.

BTW, Barfield, if they put the hogs on a rail line heading to the port, where are you planning on slaughtering and packaging them? Overlooked that little detail, didn't you? Of course we could build a slaughterhouse in Wilmington - the Clinton and Tarheel operations are a breath of fresh air every day....

Exactly how Schizophrenic are we to treat Titan the way we have, then claim that building a new rail line is great for attracting business? What kind of businesses are going to need a rail line? Likely not those fancy, white-collar RTP type jobs you people are always claiming are coming any day now.

Hamilton and Barfield wouldn't recognize a bottomless well of red ink if they fell into it.

Environmental study a waste

If they find a red headed woodpecker along the railrad right of way, this project is dead! The woodpecker has been an obstructionist for many transportation projects in our area.

Wrong Bird

You're probably talking about the Red-cockaded woodpecker. Red-headed woodpeckers are common and not listed as a threatened species.

The Red-cockaded woodpecker IS listed as federally endangered. It always will be. This bird requires a mature long-leaf pine with red heart disease for it's nesting cavity. The disease makes it easier to make a cavity and the sap that runs down the tree helps protect the baby birds from predators. There just aren't too many trees around that meet these criteria and thus, the bird will always be rare. This bird most certainly has stopped/altered projects through the years. It was instrumental in killing a waste incinerator in Pender County many, many years ago. Both Fort Bragg and Camp Lejuene have to consider this birds habitat when conducting exercises. Not sure if it would affect the rail line though...I doubt there are any nesting trees on the old rail bed but have no idea how much of a buffer the government requires for these birds.