Railroad crossings could close to make high speed rail safer

Railroad crossings could close to make high speed rail safer

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by BETH SHAYNE / NewsChannel 36
E-mail Beth: BShayne@WCNC.com

WCNC.com

Posted on January 12, 2010 at 11:50 PM

Updated Wednesday, Jan 13 at 11:36 AM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The line of concerned neighbors stretched out the door and down the hall at University Meadows Elementary School Tuesday night for an informational session on the NC Department of Transportation's proposal to re-route several railroad crossings.

The project would allow a 12-mile stretch of new track to be built alongside the current track, along NC-49 at the Cabarrus/Mecklenburg county line. That track would help accommodate current train traffic, and could also make room for a high speed train running from Charlotte to Washington D.C., if stimulus funds come through to pay for that project.

"They want to put these tracks in here, they want to run 70 to 90 miles an hour," resident Bill Monos told Newschannel 36. "They are splitting Harrisburg right down the middle.

Though some residents expressed frustration at the idea of high speed rail, most of the ire was in response to closing railroad crossings. The proposal recommends re-routing the traffic to redesigned crossings that could accommodate more cars.

As presented Tuesday, the current plan would close crossings at Pharr Mill Road, Newell Hickory Grove Road, Orr Road, Shamrock Road, and Hickory Ridge Road. Several smaller roads and private drives would also close. To accommodate the traffic, the DOT proposes enhancing the crossing at Robinson Church Road, and building new bridges over the tracks at Blackwelder Road and Caldwell Road.

"I live right off of Shamrock right now. It’s essentially one mile to [NC-]49. It would make it 7.8," Bill Reid said.

"They’ve got to allow an out somewhere," Angie Desseyn added. "It’s the ambulance in case of emergencies, it’s the kids being on the bus that much longer."

Residents of the River Hills Estates subdivision also expressed concerns about the additional traffic that would drive down their streets.

"Our kids wait on the school bus on that road. They play in their front yards on that road. There’s dogs. There’s cats. There’s animals on that road. We live there," Lynne Starnes said. "Don’t take away our homes."

"We’re going to have backups all over this place. It’s going to be an absolute disaster," Monos said.

DOT argues that the project increases safety for residents and reliability for trains. "This is the busiest railroad in the state of North Carolina," NCDOT rail specialist Marc Hamel explained. He argues that bridges keep cars and trucks from wrecking on the track and help motorists get through the intersection.

Hamel says the track sees about 60 trains per day. There are safety issues with some of the crossings' configurations already, he said. "When we put in the second track then that’s the point where it triggers us really needing to look at that safety issue."

The project is still in the planning stages. The word about stimulus funds for high speed rail isn't expected until next month, at the earliest. NCDOT representatives repeatedly assured the hundreds of people who attended the informational session that their comments would be considered before the project is finalized.

"Best case we could probably start construction in 2 years, and finish construction 2 years after that," he said.

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