The Possibilities of Passenger Rail for Wilmington

This is an Op-Ed by Mayor Bill Saffo

Imagine hopping aboard a train in downtown Wilmington and traveling to destinations west, north, and south of our city. Or, better still, imagine the ability to show off our city – its waterfront restaurants and shops, its historic buildings and sites, its recreational opportunities and energy – to travelers from those same destinations who could arrive by a quick and convenient train ride.

No worries about stop-and-go traffic. The ability to read a book, catch up on email or enjoy conversation with friends. A tranquil ride watching the landscape pass by.

There is growing momentum for that dream to become a reality, for Wilmington and other cities across North Carolina, as state, local MPO, and federal officials explore new funding opportunities for intercity passenger rail. To better understand those opportunities, the City of Wilmington and Rail Response, a project of the NC Metro Mayors Coalition, will be hosting a meeting on Thursday, Aug. 31 at 1:00p.m. We hope that this meeting, to be held at 929 N. Front Street, will provide those interested with a better understanding of rail systems in North Carolina, specifically intercity passenger rail and its benefits to residents.

“Wilmington can and should be a part of a passenger rail system in North Carolina.”

Mayor Bill Saffo

It also will offer an opportunity to understand the funding streams for rail systems and the resources municipalities need to compete for intercity rail funding. The event will include presentations by state transportation experts and a look at the future of rail here in Wilmington.

I’m proud to be a member of the Rail Response workgroup, and we look forward to being joined by other members, including co-chairs Susan Kluttz, former Salisbury Mayor and former Secretary of the NC Department of Cultural Resources, and Nick Tennyson, former mayor of Durham and former Secretary of the NC Department of Transportation.

This meeting comes at an opportune time for our city.

Back in May, our City Council approved a resolution in support of the NC Department of Transportation’s application to have the proposed Wilmington-to-Raleigh route be included in a federal  Corridor Identification and Development Program. If approved, it would designate $500,000 in federal funding for planning for the route.

In total, the federal bipartisan infrastructure bill includes $66 billion for passenger and freight rail infrastructure investment, with $44 billion to be distributed through the Federal Railroad Administration’s discretionary grant program.

As part of its Amtrak Connects US initiative, Amtrak has unveiled early-stage plans that would include Wilmington among more than 30 new routes by 2035.

In other words, a Wilmington-to-Raleigh passenger route that would connect to passenger rail across the state and the Eastern Seaboard, is a real possibility.

Meanwhile, a local effort called Eastern Carolina Rail, is seeking to enlist private and public entities in generating awareness and support for the passenger rail corridor and its benefits to our region.

This is an exciting moment for the possibilities of passenger rail. More and more people are using rail for travel, and system modernization is making it increasingly attractive to travelers.

Wilmington can and should be a part of a passenger rail system in North Carolina. There is plenty of work to be done, and I look forward to joining with partners across the state in this worthy effort.

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