All bragging aside, you need to see the new Raleigh, N.C., passenger train station

Posted by Jim Wrinn
on Wednesday, February 28, 2018

We are taught early on in childhood not to brag, especially about ourselves, and particularly not about home towns, or native states. Reckless bragging is disgraceful. A sign of poor manners. But maybe you will indulge me in a bit of gentle bragging on my home state, North Carolina. I was back recently and imposed on the good folks in the capital city of Raleigh for a preview of the new passenger station under construction and set for completion this spring.

If you haven’t heard of this $88 million project, I am here to predict that you will. Outside of California High Speed Rail and Brightline, I would dare say this is one of the biggest and boldest passenger train projects in the U.S. It is a station befitting a state capital, one corner of the famed Research Triangle Park, the home to megabits of knowledge and knowhow in the new world economy. The site is downtown and set to spark yet more residential and retail development in this urban setting.

The location us familiar to me. I went to college at nearby UNC-Chapel Hill and went train watching in the Boylan Tower area many times. It’s inside the wye (reader poll, how many other active stations are inside a wye in 2018?), where the Norfolk Southern and CSX main lines split after running jointly for about 10 miles to Cary. Once upon a time, until about 1950, there was a station here. Once upon a time about 30 years ago, trains called at the Seaboard Air Line depot on the north side of town, but then CSX took up the S-line between Norlina, N.C., and Petersburg, Va., and all trains began calling at the Southern Railway depot on Cabarrus Avenue. The SR structure is an old building and rather cramped for a state capital passenger station. So now the city and state are building a new station across from the current station that will be one for the ages – about 50 years into the future, to be precise. In about 10 years, that future could include commuter trains from Garner on the east and West Durham on the other side. Further down the road that could include high speed trains on a reborn S-Line. It is almost too much for me to fathom. I hope to live long enough to see it all unfold. Sadly, the SR station will be demolished to make room for more track.

The new station is incredible – it combines parts of the old Dillion Supply Co. building with new construction. A wall of the supply company creates one end of the three-story building. Overhead cranes decorate the ceiling. It has room for retail and for a restaurant. It has a platform that’s 900-feet long, enough to get most if not all of the Silver Star on one platform. And it has a train watching platform at the point where both legs of the wye are formed. Planners wisely reused the skin of the old Dillion supply for artwork to decorate the concourse leading to the platforms. Every step and every turn speak of thoughtfulness and a lot of passengers.

N.C. Department of Transportation has been working to make passenger train travel good once again since launching the Carolinian in 1984 (I was on board the inaugural as a reporter for Passenger Train Journal), its station rehabilitation work, intrastate Piedmont passenger trains, and most recently with its Piedmont Improvement Project to put doubletrack back on the Charlotte-Greensboro portion of the NS mainline, thus cutting the running time between the state’s three biggest cities. In the southeast, only Virginia has taken on passenger train projects with a passion, seriousness, and pocketbook. South Carolina and Georgia are content with barebones passenger train service. Think about Raleigh’s new station the next time you board the Crescent in Atlanta on that sliver of land on the edge of I-85 known as Peachtree Station.

As we were wrapping up the tour of the Raleigh construction site, one of the Piedmont intrastate trains from Charlotte arrived at Cabarrus Avenue, made its station stop, and then went through the wye and back to its servicing yard until its next trip. In a matter of months, possibly early May, it will start stopping at the new station. And once that happens, I predict that more people will be talking about this station and North Carolina’s long-term investment in its transportation future. Bragging on my home state? Perhaps so, but indulge me with one more thought: North Carolina’s state motto is “esse quam videri.” That’s Latin for “to be, rather than to seem.” Or, bring that up to date with a popular saying, “It’s not bragging if it’s true.”

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