Since the 1920s, many miles of valuable rail corridors have been abandoned inNorth Carolina. As a result, the state has lost the ability to return them to the productive freight and passenger uses for which they were originally built. This loss not only could have a detrimental impact on economic development; it also may seriously affect the state's ability to meet its future transportation needs.
With scarce public finances and rising costs of highway construction and maintenance, preserving and revitalizing existing railroad infrastructure and right of way has become an attractive and cost-effective option, especially since the current freight-rail system serves every major city and most counties in the state.
The Rail Corridor Preservation Act, passed by the General Assembly in 1988, gave the NCDOT authority to purchase railroads and preserve rail corridors for "future rail use and interim compatible uses." Amendments to the Act passed during the 1989 session also declared it a public purpose for the NCDOT to reassemble critically important lost portions of rail corridors by condemnation.
In 1988, the NCDOT purchased the former Southern Railway's 67-mile Murphy Branch (part of which has since been purchased by the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad), setting the precedent for other acquisitions that followed. NCDOT now holds title to more than 100 miles of rail to be preserved for future use.
In 2011, the Rail Division completed a major upgrade of the Piedmont & Northern rail corridor between Mt. Holly and Gastonia. A combination of State and Gaston County funds paid for the $5M refurbishment. The track structure was brought up to FRA Class Two standards, and new grade crossing protection devices were installed. Patriot Rail is now providing freight service over the Mt.Holly to Gastonia portion of the P&N corridor.
The Rail Division also provides technical assistance to local governments and economic-development groups to preserve freight-rail service to customers along light-density branch lines. In addition, state and federal funds are used to assist short-line railroads in making improvements to tracks and bridges, thereby helping to keep these lines active.
Click here for a PDF version of the Rail Corridor Preservation Policy
Contact: Steve Head