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It Really Started With A Train Part 1– My North Carolina Amtrak Fantasy Map

Mid-Day Piedmont train in route to Charlotte from Raleigh, as seen from the balcony of CityView Apartments in Greensboro. Photo by Kristen Jeffers, the author.

Mid-Day Piedmont train in route to Charlotte from Raleigh, as seen from the balcony of CityView Apartments in Greensboro. Photo by Kristen Jeffers, the author.

I’m finally getting around to doing a fantasy transit map.

My inspiration? My trip home from D.C. to Greensboro via the train.

It takes approximately 8 hours to do it in the daylight and 5.5 hours to do it in the middle of the night. And those are the only choices, just the two trains a day.

However, years ago, there were at least 5 trains a day, if not more. I think we could get back to that point and do so quite cheaply. Also, I think there’s no real excuse why we can’t have trains going to every major city, at at least 60 miles, if not 90 miles an hour.

This idea actually was planted in me years before I decided to do planning work, but not long after my first ever train trip just before I started kindergarten.

North Carolinian fourth and eighth graders study their home state in social studies classes.  Being the social studies and history nerd I still am and was very much so then, I read my textbook from cover to cover.

My fourth grade social studies textbook. This was the only image I could find.

My fourth grade social studies textbook. This was the only image I could find.

There was a section in it that talked about life in North Carolina in 2032. Part of that life was being able to have lunch on the coast and dinner in the mountains (And I’m sure breakfast in one of the three regions and other meals on other coasts, but still, you can wake up one place, lunch in another and dinner in yet another).

As it stands right now, thanks to the routing of the Carolinian and the Piedmont, you can have an early breakfast in NoDA in Charlotte, a high noon lunch at Natty Greene’s in Greensboro and a dinner at one of Ashley Christensen’s fabulous James Beard Award-winning joints in Raleigh. You could do all of this in reverse. (probably need a different breakfast spot though…)

However, what if you could have dinner at the Chef and the Farmer in Kinston instead of that dinner in Raleigh and still get back to Greensboro before midnight?

That’s the fantasy I’m creating with my North Carolina Passenger Rail Map.

Before I reveal the map, a few rules that I worked with:

1.This assumes that we can start putting commuter rail stops and tracks down the interstates and state highway medians immediately.

2. This is not by any means parallel or inspired by the existing maps for the High Speed Rail corridor or any strategic plans. Please do dig up the strategic plans, especially for the Durham-Orange Corridor, the Wake County Corridor. The regional transit authority sites are good places to start for this and I may be back here to add those links in.

3. In the interest of still keeping some realistic planning in place, I’m using those highway medians with the assumption that the lanes lost in the process would be absorbed by people taking the train more often, especially in the Charlotte Raleigh corridor. Also, the costs would be lower, as basically this can be rolled into the existing plan to add second rail from Charlotte to Raleigh and also highway resurfacing and widening.

4.I decided to overlay a Google Map, because all the work is done for me. The map is blurry, yes, but it’s really just there for perspective and once I started drawing the lines and circles over top, I didn’t want to re-center it. I will revisit this later as well.

So, all aboard (couldn’t resist)! In my fantasy world, you can get to just about any city in the state in less than 5 hours, many within 2-3 hours.

My trunk line is the existing Piedmont routing. I’m assuming that almost everyone, save the folks on Asheville to Wilmington line, will come through Greensboro, Raleigh or Charlotte at some point.

(Here are the raw distance calculations, using Google Maps and following existing interstate, U.S. or state highway routes where possible).

I imagine these stations will be massive park and rides, utilizing space right next to highway interchanges for cars and regional buses to areas that still can’t be served by rail efficiently. These buses will still sync up directly with arrivals and departures and will leave the cities they originate in promptly. Also, there will be transit to major commercial areas in the cities represented.

Or, I could go even more fantastical and make all these stations downtown stations, much like all the existing ones are. A lot of these places will need new track anyway, why not go downtown to downtown and save money on parking and buses.

Now, what you’ve been waiting for, the map!

North Carolina Fantasy Amtrak Map

Existing Amtrak service is represented by blue lines. Fantasy service is represented, with slight approximations, by the green lines. In the Google Drive, distance is calculated using state highways, of which many do have a passenger or freight railroad paralleling or hugging anyway.

Also, if you’ve not seen the infrastructure maps, especially the railroad maps, the Washington Post recently published, you should. It will also point out that a lot of my fantasy map, could become very real and very viable–if only we reinstated some of the old railroads or allowed more passenger traffic on the ones we have.

Finally, there’s some great information on the N.C. By Rail website, including this awesome video of the progress and modifications to the primary state-owned and operated route that the Piedmont travels.

I expect you to critique the mess out of this. Can’t wait to hear your thoughts!

I’m Kristen. I started blogging here to make sense of the built environment around me. You can find me on FacebookTwitter and Instagram. You can find out more about me at my portfolio website, www.kristenejeffers.com. Or get an email from me weekly on Tuesday’s with links, other posts and job/fellowship opportunities.

 

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  • neroden

    Greenville and Wilmington would be good “early action” items because they’re high-population and high-density.

    It might be best to use the existing railroad line to Wilmington, which is very straight and merely requires a connection to the existing Amtrak line (at Pembroke, admittedly not entirely straightforward), some upgrades, and approval by CSX.

    There are three existing railroad routes from Greenville to Raleigh, all owned by shortlines who would probably be happy to cooperate, but I don’t know if the highway route woutld be faster.

    • Also was not aware of the shortlines or the CSX line. Essentially, highway medians seemed like good low-hanging fruit and they could all be serviced and contracted under NC DOT, instead of fighting the freight railroads.

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