After years of dormancy, plans for the Southeast High Speed Rail corridor received a recent boost when the state of Virginia and CSX reached agreement on a $3.7 billion investment covering hundreds of miles of railroad right-of-way and tracks in Virginia, and the Warren County portion of an inactive rail line.
According to its website, CSX Transportation is a freight railroad operating in the eastern United States and in the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec.
The Southeast High Speed Rail corridor’s route, developed by the North Carolina Department of Transportation and Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, runs from Richmond, Va., to Raleigh.
In Warren County, the corridor runs from the Virginia state line, through the town of Norlina, and on to areas south of the town, where the rail line will reach Middleburg and move south to Raleigh.
According to a news release from the office of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, the commonwealth and CSX must finalize exact terms of the agreement, but plan to begin its execution later this year.
A major portion of the work will involve constructing a bridge across the Potomac River in order to separate passenger and freight operations from Richmond, Va., to Washington, D.C.
Virginia will acquire more than 350 miles of railroad right-of-way and 225 miles of track, and 37 miles of new track improvements.
According to the news release, the agreement would lay the foundation for Southeast High Speed Rail through acquisition of an abandoned rail line running from Petersburg, Va., into North Carolina. Ultimately, the N.C. Department of Transportation would be able to acquire 10 miles of inactive freight line running from the Virginia state line south to Ridgeway in Warren County.
The N.C. Department of Transportation previously indicated that in the area between Norlina and Petersburg, Va., new track would need to be placed because tracks were removed after rail service ended there in the mid-1980s.
Plans for the Southeast High Speed Rail corridor originated in 1992 when the U.S. Department of Transportation designated five high speed rail corridors nationwide. The Southeast corridor was designated as running from Washington, D.C. through Richmond, Va., down to Raleigh and Charlotte. Four years later, a connection to Hampton Roads, Va., was added. In 1998, the U.S. Department of Transportation extended the route to Jacksonville, Fla.
Interest in Warren County began in earnest in 2003, as N.C. Department of Transportation officials outlined high-speed rail plans before a crowd of around 300 people at the Norlina Volunteer Fire Department. A number of residents expressed the hope that Norlina would be designated as a stop along the route.
Public hearings about potential high speed rail routes were conducted in Warren, Vance, Franklin and Wake counties in 2010. A Warren County meeting in Norlina drew about 250 people.
At that time, the N.C. Department of Transportation indicated that the high speed railroad would accommodate both freight and passenger service; however, due to the nature of high speed rail, roadways would not cross the railroad. DOT officials said that some existing roads would need to be realigned, some new roads constructed, and some bridges upgraded or constructed to allow passage from one side of the tracks to the other.
Department of Transportation officials received comments and answered questions from the public. Local citizens also had the opportunity to provide written comments or complete an online survey.
More than 1,850 individuals and 50 organizations in North Carolina and Virginia submitted comments. Out of 979 respondents who indicated whether they supported or opposed the high speed rail project, 598, or 61 percent, supported it; 368, or 38 percent, opposed it; and 13, or 1 percent, expressed conditional approval, such as if a certain route alternative were selected.
A proposed route was announced about two years later with maximum authorized speed in the area south of Petersburg Va., to Raleigh listed as 110 miles per hour.
In the 2010s, another meeting was held in Warren County to discuss the possibility that a greenway might parallel the rail corridor to accommodate walkers and bicycle riders. However, reports from a 2014 meeting in Henderson suggested that the greenway would likely bypass the local area.
After that point, reports about high speed rail coming to North Carolina effectively ceased until the Virginia governor’s recent announcement about the agreement with CSX.
At its January meeting, the Norlina Town Board briefly discussed the agreement, expressing a renewed hope that Norlina could be considered for a potential stop between Petersburg and Raleigh.