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Norfolk Southern Slams Brakes On Red Line

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Local rail-transit cheerleaders have for years been shaking their pom-poms trying to gin up support for the half-billion dollar Red Line, a 25-mile commuter rail project slated to run from uptown Charlotte to Mooresville. They’ve cooked-up multiple studies to show the purported economic and social benefits the Red Line would produce; held public forums stacked with rail proponents to pressure elected officials for support; rolled out allegedly objective transit experts to sing a veritable chorus of Red Line praises.

Elected officials, with the notable exception of some sensible folks up in Iredell County, have been all too willing to swallow the pitch – hook, line and sinker, without stopping to examine the proposed project on its merits instead of its hype.

Here’s the reality: the project as currently proposed is DOA from jump street. At least according to ranking officials with Norfolk Southern, which owns the tracks the Red Line would run on. In a letter sent this week to the N.C. Department of Transportation’s deputy secretary for transit, Norfolk Southern minces no words in their assessment of the project, which they consider “fatally flawed”:

We have followed with interest and concern the recent campaign to introduce “Red Line” commuter service on the Norfolk Southern-owned rail line between Charlotte and Mooresville. Norfolk Southern stands ready to study with NCDOT and CATS the introduction of commuter rail service on the Norfolk Southern O Line. Although I cannot now anticipate the eventual conclusions of such a study, Norfolk Southern commits to ensuring that any new study is based upon realistic operating, financial and regulatory assumptions.

Having said that, Norfolk Southern cannot support the current “Red Line” plan as proposed by NCDOT for use of Norfolk Southern’s property. The “Red Line” plan is fatally flawed and based upon assumptions about the projected freight use of the O Line that are no longer valid. For those reasons, the current proposal is not feasible and does not constitute a starting point for further discussions. The JPA development process, therefore, is premature and will not lead to an accelerated construction schedule.

The letter reiterates concerns from earlier this year, when Norfolk Southern officials raised myriad questions about a Red Line project that they already considered “fundamentally incompatible” with the railroad titan’s future use of the line and its ability to expand their business in North Carolina. The latest missive to state officials, and its stronger language of dissent, makes clear in no uncertain terms Norfolk Southern considers the track that the Red Line is headed down a dead end.

In a rational world, that should be enough to slam the brakes on this project from moving forward. Charlotte Area Transit System and their uptown rail-transit boosters, however, do not live in a rational world. For proof look no further than the repeated warnings of gross cost overruns that plagued the McCrory Blue Line light rail, and the summary dismissals of any reality-based facts that followed in their wake.

It would be nice to think that local transit boosters and elected officials have learned their lessons, at an exorbitant cost to taxpayers, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

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