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


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.

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“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.