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Corridor as designated by the Federal Railroad Administration

The Southeast High Speed Rail Corridor (SEHSR) is a passenger rail transportation project in the United States to extend high speed passenger rail services from Washington, DC south through Richmond and Petersburg in Virginia through Raleigh and Charlotte in North Carolina and connect with the existing high speed rail corridor from DC to Boston, Massachusetts known as the Northeast Corridor. Since first established in 1992, the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) has since extended the corridor to Atlanta and Macon, Georgia; Greenville, South Carolina; Columbia, South Carolina; Jacksonville, Florida; and Birmingham, Alabama.

Most funding for the SEHSR to date has been by the USDOT and the states of North Carolina and Virginia. Both states already fund some non-high speed rail service operated for them by Amtrak, and own locomotives and passenger cars. The first large section of the SEHSR, from Washington, DC through Virginia and North Carolina south to Charlotte, is due to be in service by 2015 based on funding availability. [1]

CSX's main "A" (red) and "S" (blue) lines. Note the removed track from Centralia, Virginia to Norlina, North Carolina, indicated by the dashed line.

The portion of the proposed Corridor from Richmond to Raleigh travels along the old Seaboard Air Line Railroad main line, now CSX's S line, which generally parallels US 1. This line sees much less intensive service than when the famous Orange Blossom Special traveled at speeds in excess of 79 mph between Richmond and Jacksonville, Florida, and the quality of the tracks has declined. In fact, the tracks were entirely removed along the S line between Centralia, Virginia and Norlina, North Carolina in the late seventies in favor of CSX's A line, which largely runs parallel to I-95 and passes east of Raleigh through Rocky Mount, Wilson, and Fayetteville. The A line is currently used for Amtrak service; it provides a more direct route to Florida than the S line, but adds over an hour to the travel time from Richmond to Raleigh, as trains proceed south along the A line to Selma then back northwest along the North Carolina Railroad to Raleigh. The relative absence of freight trains along the S line will mean that significant curve straightening and other work can be accomplished without disrupting current service.

The rest of the planned route, from Raleigh to Charlotte, travels along currently operational lines of the North Carolina Railroad, roughly parallel to I-85. The portion of the route from Raleigh to is over the H-line, while the Greensboro to Charlotte section travels along Norfolk Southern's main line. (While the lines are owned by the North Carolina Railroad, Norfolk Southern has an operational contract for trackage rights.) Both see current freight and passenger traffic (Amtrak's Carolinian and Piedmont), with freight traffic along the main line particularly heavy. However, double-tracking has been removed from several sections of the Greensboro to Charlotte main line since its heyday, and significant signal upgrades, curve straightening, super-elevation, and restoration will be required to support high speed passenger service along the corridor without interfering with freight operations. NCDOT has been working with NS to restore the double-tracking and make other incremental upgrades, a process that has reduced the travel time from Raleigh to Charlotte by 35 minutes since 2001.

The proposed project does not include electrification of the railway, unlike in the Northeast Corridor. However, top speeds would be raised from 79 mph to 110 mph, resulting in an average speed of 85-87 mph. The overall effect would be to reduce the travel time from Charlotte to Washington, DC from the current 9 hours and 20 minutes on the Carolinian to 6 hours and 20 minutes, competitive with driving time. Of the three hours in time savings, between one-third and one-half would result from the taking the more direct (and newly upgraded) S line and bypassing Wilson and Rocky Mount, whereas the rest would be from speed improvements, both from raising top speeds and from reducing bottlenecks.

In 1996, USDOT added a connection from Richmond east to Hampton Roads to SEHSR. This spur is currently being studied by the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT), and is currently in the EIS Tier I process. [2] The Richmond /Hampton Roads Passenger Rail Project has been studying this connection [3].

A feasibility study has been completed for a further extension of SEHSR from Charlotte through Spartanburg and Greenville, South Carolina to Atlanta and then Macon, Georgia. Further extensions to Savannah, Georgia, along with an extension from Raleigh through Columbia, South Carolina to Savannah and on to Jacksonville, Florida are also part of the federally designated SEHSR corridor, but those extensions have not yet been studied. All feasibility studies have suggested that synergy between parts of SEHSR and the neighboring Northeast Corridor is important. The Charlotte to Raleigh portion is predicted to be much more profitable with the corridor connected to DC and the Northeast Corridor. Similarly, the feasibility study found it much easier to justify the Charlotte to Atlanta and Macon route if the Charlotte to DC portion were completed.

Another proposed rail project, known as the Transdominion Express, would connect to SEHSR and extend from Richmond west to Lynchburg and from Washington, DC (Alexandria) south via an existing Virginia Railway Express route to Manassas, extending on south to Charlottesville, Lynchburg, Roanoke and Bristol on the Tennessee border. [4]

See also

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