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FivePoints route favored for Raleigh high speed rail

(The following story by Sarah Ovaska appeared on the News Observer website on August 3, 2010.)

RALEIGH, N.C. — The best and safest way for fast-speed rail service to roll into downtown Raleigh is to hop onto tracks being used by Norfolk Southern Railroad, both a citizen advisory task force and city staff told Raleigh's City Council on Tuesday.

Council members listened Tuesday to the recommendation from the city's Passenger Rail Task Force that the proposed service coming from Richmond, Va., to Raleigh should come into the city through a path that runs through a stretch of the city's Five Points neighborhood as it approaches downtown.

The council took no action on the recommendation but did set a public hearing Aug. 31 to hear from the residents, business owners and others who will be affected when the high-speed train corridor makes its way to Raleigh.

"It's up to us to take theinformation and put it to the citizenry to see what they say," said Russ Stephenson, an at-large councilor.

Railroad protests

Norfolk Southern is expected to push to have the fast-speed rail go another route, arguing that it will disrupt the railroad's operations.

Council members are not the final decision makers, but they plan to make a recommendation to the state transportation department after hearing from residents at the Aug. 31 public meeting.

The Norfolk Southern corridor largely runs along the western side of Capital Boulevard as the tracks approach downtown, where Raleigh will build its Union Station, a new transportation hub that would link rail, bus and other modes of transport in one central location.

The other option for high-speed rail is the state-owned tracks CSX uses that follow the east side of Capital Boulevard and border the city's Mordecai neighborhood.

The train service is years away, but state and federal agencies are making decisions now about which tracks the new service will use, likely road closures and the need to build bridges in and around the city.

Norfolk Southern has lobbied against this option, contending that it will disrupt the railroad's freight yard and hurt its customers and residents of the nearby Five Points neighborhood. Spokesmen for two Norfolk Southern freight customers, Cargill and Golden State Foods, criticized the proposal at a previous public hearing.

The Norfolk Southern route would require closing off at-grade crossings at Fairview Road in Raleigh's Five Points area and at Jones Street near the Greyhound Bus Station downtown, according to a report delivered Tuesday by Eric Lamb, the manager of the transportation services division for Raleigh's planningdepartment.

The city might also have to move Fire Station No. 22, at 9350 Durant Road in North Raleigh, because it would be too close to the proposed high-speed rail to function as a firehouse, Lamb said.

Also on Tuesday, the council approved:

• Its final comments on the Falls Lake cleanup plan. The state Environmental Management Commission is deciding how the city's main water source should be cleaned of nitrogen and phosphorus.

• Temporary bicycle lanes on the newly renovated stretch of Hillsborough Street near N.C. State University's campus.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

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