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Raleigh's FivePoints neighborhood turns against high-speed rail route

(The following appeared on the Raleigh News Observer website on August 31, 2010.)

RALEIGH, N.C. — Nancy Mullin fears the worst. Her fears about a plan for high-speed trains are spreading fast through her handsome, leafy neighborhood near Raleigh’s Five Points.

The Five Points Citizens Advisory Council voted 81-0 Thursday night to condemn a proposal that would route new passenger trains through the Norfolk Southern freight yard between Capital Boulevard and the Five Points area.

The unanimous vote was an ornery endorsement of warnings from Mullin and others that train noise and vibration would rattle homes, erode property values and drown out sidewalk conversations.

You can expect to hear these alarms amplified Tuesday night, when the Raleigh City Council holds a public hearing on three alternatives for the downtown path of a proposed 162-mile fast track from Raleigh to Richmond.

“Homeowners aren’t going to receive any compensation for reductions in our property values,” Mullin, 59, told her neighbors before Thursday’s CAC vote. “Or for potential damage that vibration and construction or other aspects of this project might cause to our foundations, our structures, to old trees or our famous hundred-year-old terracotta sewer pipes.”

The state Department of Transportation is considering options called NC1 and NC2 that would run the trains through a CSX freight yard on the east side of Capital.

City transportation planners and a citizen task force have endorsed the proposal dreaded in Five Points, known as NC3, that would route the new trains along Capital’s the west side.

All three options would disrupt car and foot traffic between downtown Raleigh and the Glenwood South eating-and-drinking district. NC1/NC2 would close West and Harrington streets and transform Jones Street into a four-block viaduct over the tracks. NC3 would close Jones while leaving West and Harrington open.

NC 4 alternateA fourth alternative (shown here) is being floated by an informal group of engineers and activists. It would send the new trains soaring above Capital Boulevard on a five-block viaduct – lifting off from North Street near West Street and touching down on the CSX tracks north of Peace Street.

There was barely a ripple of concern around Five Points in June when the three official options were unveiled in a 666-page DOT study.

Some folks objected to an NC3 provision that would close Fairview Road where it crosses the tracks, cutting a convenient link to Capital Boulevard. But they were consoled by news that closing the crossing would silence the loud horns sounded day and night by approaching trains.

The mood changed after Norfolk Southern launched its own campaign against the proposal. Most of the negative comments at a DOT hearing in late July were delivered by Norfolk Southern and some of its corporate freight customers.

But after DOT failed to provide answers for residents’ questions or to send representatives to Five Points meetings, Mullin and some of her neighbors started their own research. They studied federal government files and wrestled with vague, spotty details in the state DOT study

“We Googled information about the impact” of new rail lines on neighborhood property values, Mullin said in an interview. “We went on websites of other places where high-speed rail has gone through.”

A school consultant who moved from Boston to Raleigh a year ago, Mullin warned that street closings would leave Five Points residents “landlocked,” cut off from easy access to other parts of the city.

She cited the Federal Railroad Administration for her warning that trains would be as loud as jackhammers, shaking homes as far as six blocks away.

Eric Lamb, the city’s transportation services manager, was skeptical of the dire consequences laid out by Mullin and other critics in neighborhood newsletters and on a new website called DontRailroadHistoricFivePoints.com.

“I think there’s a lot of misinformation floating around,” said Lamb, who has endorsed NC3. For the past century, he said, Five Points has lived with the noise and vibration of Norfolk Southern locomotives shoving rail cars together and assembling freight trains.

“It’s already adjacent to an industrial area, an existing rail line and rail yard,” Lamb said. “So it is not clear that there would be a degradation of property values compared to existing conditions today.”

Mullin’s arguments drew strength from the summer-long suffering of Five Points residents during a noisy and disruptive street repair project on Glenwood Avenue.

“There have been days we couldn’t figure out how to get out of our neighborhood because the streets were closed,” she said.

“We are more than six blocks from Glenwood” at her house on Aycock Street, Mullin said. “And we can feel the effects of the jackhammers now.

“And the trains are going to be a lot closer, and they’re going to be forever.”

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

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