Saturday, September 29, 2012

Red Line Chronicle - Chapter 8 - Red Line Task Force Back in Action

After taking a couple of months off from meeting, the Red Line Task Force chaired by Davidson Mayor Woods met on Wednesday to get an update on the project. 

The task force efforts to push the finance plan have been on hold since Norfolk Southern (NSRC) sent a series of letters this past spring that raised a number of serious questions.  In response, the involved parties are planning a capacity study of the NSRC O-line - the railroad's name for the line where the commuter rail project would take place.

Representatives of NCDOT and CATS met with NSRC earlier this month to begin that planning, but it will take a couple more months before that is ready.  Deputy Secretary for Transportation, Paul Morris, stated that executing the study is fairly "straight forward and predictable", but the important part is getting agreement on the assumptions and scope of the study itself.  That's the work that will take place over the next couple of months.  It was mentioned that the study could possibly evaluate traffic and capacity requirements from "New York to New Orleans", or it could be much smaller.  That is all driven by the assumptions and scope.

Modified map cutout from NCDOT
This study will determine if both passenger and freight service can operate on the line while "maintaining strategic capability" for NSRC.  The Red Line project covers just a very small portion of the O-Line, but could be critical if NSRC determines it can and desires to use the O-Line as a feasible bypass of the existing North Carolina Rail Road (NCRR) main line it leases from the State of North Carolina - a long term lease which was just renewed. The green dotted line is the NCRR leased from the State.  The red dotted line is the O-Line with the solid red section representing the Red Line project itself.  An upgraded O-line in conjunction with the orange dotted connection through Kernersville could provide a bypass of the current NCRR line.  If it is determined to be possible for the O-line to handle traffic from the NCRR mainline, that likely would mean the increase in freight on that line would be incompatible with passenger service without significant and costly additional upgrades than those already planned for the Red Line project.  Some may not be possible since the current O-line right of way abuts state roads like NC-115.

Over the next two months NCDOT and Norfolk Southern will work to define the parameters of the study to be conducted by Woodside Consulting Group described by Paul Morris as "the" consulting company for Class 1 rail carriers.  This consulting outfit has been around for decades and certainly appears to be qualified just by looking at their client list.  These outside consultants will design and run a computer model that provides a picture of what traffic modeling would look like under the agreed assumptions.  They will also provide mitigation and enhancement suggestions to get past any bottlenecks.  This is where significant additional costs could come in for the Red Line project.

Unfortunately, the two most important details, timelines and costs for the study itself were not available at Wednesday's meeting.  These important details are dependent on the assumptions behind the study.  Those watching the project closely will have to wait a little longer to get that information.

By then, the November elections will be over and a new Legislature will be selected.  At that point we'll also get to see what happens there.  Will the Legislature attempt to pull the plug? Will they push this forward in a lame duck session? Or, will they wash their hands of it and say NCDOT can do what they want without legislative approval?

See the entire Red Line Chronicle here.

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