News & Reviews News Wire Raleigh-Richmond passenger project to receive $1 billion grant

Raleigh-Richmond passenger project to receive $1 billion grant

By Trains Staff | December 6, 2023

Revival of CSX S-Line could bring major time savings for riders

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Map of planned passenger rail line between Raleigh, N.C., and Richmond, Va.
The planned Raleigh-to-Richmond project will provide a much more direct route between the two cities than the existing Amtrak route. North Carolina Department of Transportation

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Transportation is set to award a $1 billion grant for development of a new passenger rail line between Raleigh, N.C., and Richmond, Va., using CSX Transportation’s partially abandoned S-Line freight route between the two cities, Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) announced on Tuesday.

Weed-covered railroad track with rusted rails leading into woods
Abandoned former Seaboard S-Line track at Norlina, N.C., in 2007. A $1 billion federal grant is set to revive the route for passenger service. Bob Johnston

Tillis called the project “a big win for economic development in the region;” the press release from his office said the project will develop a resilient and reliable passenger rail route that will also contribute to freight and supply-chain resiliency in the Southeast. The North Carolina Department of Transportation and Amtrak will provide 20% in matching funds.

The Raleigh-to-Richmond, or R2R, project, is a partnership between the North Carolina Department of Transportation and Virginia Rail Passenger Authority. Virginia purchased 75 miles of the S-Line right of way between Petersburg, Va., and Ridgeway, N.C., in 2020 [see “Virginia-CSX deal’s impact …,” Trains News Wire, Jan. 29, 2020] ] while North Carolina received a $47.5 million grant to purchase the S-Line from Raleigh to Ridgeway that same year [see “Grant announcements include $47.5 million to North Carolina …,” News Wire, Sept. 21, 2020]. The Washington political website The Hill reports the new route could cut an hour off travel time between the two cities, and could be in service by the end of the decade. More details on the project are available here.

While Tillis’ announcement characterized the project as “commuter rail,” an NCDOT spokesman emphasized to WRAL-TV that the 162-mile line is intercity service. The station also reported that Raleigh Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin told a city council meeting that the official announcement of the funding would come Friday.

13 thoughts on “Raleigh-Richmond passenger project to receive $1 billion grant

  1. Perhaps a better approach would be to restore/upgrade the former SAL Norfolk line from Norlina to connect with the former ACL mainline at Roanoke Rapids.

    1. You mean Weldon. Although Weldon borders Roanoke Rapids (split by I-95) the ACL mainline goes through Weldon and the line to RR splits off from Weldon to a dead end at the papermill in RR. Back in the 80’s the line continued on through RR to Norlina and connected to this line described in the article. I have lived my entire life in RR.

  2. In briefings I have attended over the years, it was said that there would be some slots allocated to CSX- high speed intermodal only.

  3. Is it true that CSX is going to get some thru trackage rights on the “S” line once it is restored from Petersburg – Norlina & Norlina – Raleigh. If so, have many questions for each section.

  4. The unanswered question is what the $1B is supposed to buy. Is it just to relay track, which seems a high amount? Does it buy double track? Is part of it for stations? Does it buy needed equipment? For an existing, graded right of way, the amount still seems high.

    1. As an old head once observed about the SAL main, “It was laid out by a blind surveyor with a one-eyed mule.” To maximize the full potential of the ROW much re-engineering will be necessary. $1B will not be enough.

    1. Depends on your definition of outrageous. The property was held in an assessment state of “fee simple absolute.” I heard this term applied to the line at a conference at least 25 years ago. I asked the presenter to repeat it and had to write it down.

    2. Only the ROW is intact north of Norlina, with some minor exceptions for encroachment by adjoining landowners. I recall reading many years ago the S-line north of Norlina was removed due to the bridge over the Roanoke River needing to be replaced. With no significant population centers between Raleigh and Petersburg, if rebuilt it will be 162 miles through the North Carolina and Virginia pine forests to save the 1-hour detour from Raleigh over to the A-line in Selma.

    3. Your statement is true Steven. I live in Roanoke Rapids which borders the Roanoke River and that bridge and the one over Lake Gaston caused the line to be pulled. That line now has a major housing development built and a private school over it at Lake Gaston and would cause a major headache to rebuild.

  5. Look at it this way, at least the S-Line r/w still exists and hasn’t been parceled out to other development.

    This line never should have been closed.

    1. I’ve driven the freeways parallel to both lines. The old ACL route (// I-95) has easier grades than the old line thru Norlina (// I-85) which is probably former SAL…

    2. I appreciate one has to choose their battles with great care. Nevertheless, Amtrak allowed this line to be abandoned and three decades later would assume all maintenance and upkeep for Florida’s A-line between Palatka and DeLand.

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