Commuter Rail - Garner to West Durham

I’m all for an all-day service, but I’m still not sure if I’d go so far as to say a commuter-focused service is pointless? There’s a difference between saying that 9-to-5’s will be less dominant versus implying they’re gone for good. Even businesses are split on this issue (not to mention our community), so I don’t think we should jump the gun and put all our eggs in one basket.

There’s a practical issue, too: @colbyjd3 wrote out earlier what a commuter-leaning train schedule could look like, which has 30min headways some of the time. But if we use his schedule but we say trains run at equal intervals all day, you’d be stuck with trains that come every 50min all day with our current budget. I don’t know about you, but I’d find the former train service more convenient, even if it’s just for certain times of the day.

Our region is planning to double the frequency of commuter/regional trains as soon as it gets the chance (so divide the above numbers by two). But we have to go back to the ballot box and double our transit-dedicated sales tax to do that and save up enough money to pull that off. Until the day comes when we do that, isn’t it better to be okay with something in the meantime?


All-day seems to be the best service, I just can’t see 9-5pm or Peak service. Especially word has it this commuter rail won’t run on Saturdays and Sundays. So we be spending on a nothing burger. IF we focus on peak.

I wasn’t necessarily calling any of those systems a failure, I said that to say that local planners need to consider the problems MARTA and other systems are facing or trying to resolve.


So much goodness in this post! I agree that we have to get off of the commuter rail mindset and focus on the rail service being a regional service that supports traditional commuter patterns, the travel of non-white collar job workers (odd hours), and leisure users who come into the cities for entertainment, etc. Frankly, I can easily make the case that service industry workers could easily be majority users of the system since their jobs are more likely to be in the centers of the cities, and their salaries are less likely to support them living there, and parking for such employees would be harder to come by as the cities grow larger.


Turns out GoTriangle quietly released a report on the travel market along the commuter rail line.

…and y’all won’t like they key assumption it lists:

This is frustrating, but I wouldn’t chalk it up to them being incompetent: they know from their own survey last year that non-9-to-5 needs are a weak point in their study.

Also, this study does go above and beyond in clearly showing how people living through different types of inequality (income, race, housing type, car ownership) could be better served by potential stations. It means they are trying to shine a light on low-wage workers and their demographics, though differences in how they work are not on their radar.

This made me wonder if the issue is that they don’t have the data to look into this sort of thing. After all, they talk about their future works in the end of the report:

That new Triangle Regional Travel Demand Model is done, and our planners are asking for feedback on it now through Feb. 15! This model is at the heart of a ton of the evidence behind our region’s transit projects, including this rail proposal. Maybe we should write to them about this specific issue, and ask whether it’ll be considered by this new model?


From the thread on 401 W. Lane St. that somehow devolved into a conversation about rail construction:

It’s hard to say for different digging methods beyond the contexts of individual projects, but one of the researchers behind the Transit Costs Project noted in his professional blog that cut-and-cover construction is like 50% ($120M) cheaper than boring tunnels, per mile.

Another example: CalTrain, the commuter rail line connecting San Francisco to the rest of Silicon Valley, compared the costs of electrifying their tracks and grade-separating them. Compared to at-grade construction, the average aerial viaduct in its right-of-ways were 3x as expensive, whereas cut-and-cover and boring would’ve been 5x and 7x, respectively. But again: take that with a grain of salt because we’re talking about one of the most expensive real estate markets on the planet.

This study from the influential Eno Center for Transportation also found that the cost of tunneling for rail projects is artificially higher in the US than the rest of the world. This matches up with what tunneling industry experts have noticed have found that the construction itself is only a part of why tunneling is expensive: all of those reports blame sloppy regulations (e.g. NEPA being warped to promote NIMBY interests) and decision-makers being allergic to temporary disruptions (to people’s daily lives as well as to traffic).


Awesome, as always! Thank you so very much! :smiling_face_with_three_hearts: :+1:

More than just money. The most common complaint about the current Union Station AMTRAK platform is that the access corridor is too long-winded and complicated.

A just barely below the surface rail network means that the travel distance from metro station entrance to train car door is short. Skytrains will need to be built higher vs how deep you have to build an underground metro given an even terrain.

Of course this is ignoring that there’s a bunch of utilities just at the surface that will need to be rerouted.

Yeah, inconvenient alignments can be a huge problem, too, especially if the act of temporarily ripping apart a road will cause problems (including utility, but also drivers and local businesses too). I thought you were talking about the old light rail idea as a whole rather than just the Union Station segment, but I guess my point still stands?

Just as an example. If we get a rail transit system one day we should build out the best system possible and not just just any system. Charlotte’s Blue Line is not grade separated so its slow and there’s always accidents on the system–yesterday a car got stuck on both tracks in Uptown for an hour. Most cities build light rail to say they have light rail we need a practical system that focus on passenger convenience/experience.


So they’re still wrapping up the Greater Triangle Commuter Rail Phase 2 study, but I managed to find a story map of the findings. I expect they’ll be adding to it over the next few weeks/months, but here’s what I’ve learned so far:

  1. They’ve identified a few pain points on the corridor, but only one of them is considered high risk: Raleigh Union Station. There’s a few reasons mentioned as to why that’s the case, but most of them seem to be related to conflict points with freight and intercity rail traffic. Not really sure why this is surprising, considering that they supposedly built Union Station with the expectation that commuter rail would eventually share this space with these other modes, but what do I know.
  2. They’re recommending some curve corrections through Durham and south of downtown Raleigh. These corrections are not required, but will improve service (namely, I assume, in terms of speed).
  3. Pretty much everything else is info about the existing corridor: adjacent utilities, separate NCDOT projects impacting the corridor, at-grade crossing crash analysis… no surprises there, doesn’t really seem to have any effect one way or the other. Worth noting that nearly all high-incident crossings are already planned for grade separation within the next ten years through separate NCDOT projects.

Pretty sure that this site isn’t supposed to be visible to the public yet, but I found it, soooooooo sorry GoTriangle, my bad ¯_(ツ)_/¯


Those other cities are thriving and receiving growth because of that if Raleigh had that mindset that would benefit us too. While at the same time I’m sure they focus on Passenger convenience/experience you’re displaying symptoms of the JKGES (James Goodknight Education Syndrome). That’s a nimby mindset.

I’m the least NIMBY person on this board. I would make sweeping changes to the entire metro if I had unchecked wealth and power. lol


Hah, unlimited power and budget and this board would have the Triangle’s transit looking like Singapore. But alas…


Join the club. :partying_face: :partying_face: :partying_face:


Not sure how you got your hands on this (unless you joined that Board of Trustees meeting?), but thanks for putting it up!

For everyone who didn’t read the page Colby linked to, here are the listed risk factors:

“High risk” in the context of engineering project management doesn’t necessarily mean “likely to fail”; it’s closer to saying “likely to get ugly if you don’t work around these problems in thoughtful ways”. I’m sure GoTriangle knew about these problems already, but it’s still important to know them so that architects and contractors know exactly how to solve them.

More about the whole thing about platform heights...

I think this might be because of policies by Amtrak and Norfolk Southern. Amtrak doesn’t like to share tracks and platforms with other rail operators. They probably didn’t know GoTriangle would want to run trains every hour (or even more frequently) back when they agreed to plans for RUS. I wouldn’t be too surprised if they play this card if they complain about this, especially since they have a track record of being divas about their station spaces.

I don’t think freight rail would have as much ground to complain, though. NCRR shouldn’t have to worry about freight rail on those particular tracks (assuming we’re following RUS’ plans for where to put the commuter rail platform and NCRR’s current guidelines) thanks to their own policy:

Another interesting point is that the cost estimates for GTCR in the Phase 1 study may have been inflated, and could be slightly reduced thanks to this study. This is because the earlier study did not consider rail infrastructure improvements that have already happened (or will happen by the time trains start running), including the bridge near Crabtree Creek in Morrisville. I could be wrong, though, because we’ve yet to see the plans for how to augment Durham and Cary’s stations, and those could cost a pretty penny.


Listing “single track for station entry” as a high-risk issue probably boils down to the diamond crossing with Norfolk Southern. To add a second entry track, you’d have to add another track to that diamond crossing. It’s likely possible, but there’s a chance it might be dead letter.

I have always had an issue with the platform layout at Union Station today.

In order to accommodate current and future commuter and intercity trains, Union Station will probably need to have four platform tracks on the H line, in the long run.

There is clearly enough room for a platform and one track between the current platform and the building. This is what has always been shown on layout diagrams and such. But it would make so much more sense from an operations perspective if they could fit two new tracks and an island platform there instead. The current platform and its tracks occupy a width of 55 feet:

7.5ft edge oc clearance envelope-to-track center
5ft track center-to-platform edge
30ft platform
5ft platform edge-to-track center
7.5ft platform edge-to-edge of clearance envelope

However, there appears to be only 50ft from the edge of the clearance envelope for the current track, to the edge of the building.

While it would be possible to just reduce the platform width by 5’, to 25’ wide , and just shoehorn it in, 25’ would be considered “substandard” and make it harder (though far from impossible) to comfortably fit in the elevators, stairs, and full ADA accessibility. This is also not to mention the lack of a buffer between the building and the clearance envelope for the last track in this configuration. Which, I also don’t think this tight clearance is a showstopper for a platform track in a constrained area at a station, but would likely be considered “substandard”.

In addition I think they like to add a fence between the tracks to keep people from moving between platforms across the tracks. This is a major issue and would be absolutely required for low platforms, but perhaps less necessary for high platforms because basically nobody would even consider jumping down from a 4 foot high platform in the first place, and anyone who would, probably wouldn’t let a fence stop them from crossing the tracks. High platforms would be my overwhelming preference for our commuter rail system anyway.


Click here, scroll to the bottom of the page, click News Release, then NewsRelease_DraftWorkPlan. Downloads a Word document that has a link at the bottom of page two. Somebody needs to clean up that site a bit.

Agreed -though I also want to give GoTriangle the benefit of the doubt. They only employs like half a dozen planners and public engagement managers (all of whom are asked to do way more than what their degrees have probably trained them to originally do), so I’m not surprised that they’re struggling to keep up with that website when private companies would hire dedicated staff for that.

And besides, I think all of us on this site are keeping a much closer eye on this project than maybe even some paid professionals in the transit and commercial development industries. Just because updates are publicly available doesn’t mean they’re :sparkles: ready :sparkles: for the general public to view, especially when they don’t have a systematic way to store and show public records like Raleigh, Wake County, or CAMPO do.

As a reminder for people without photographic memories, this was the schematic plan for Phase 1 of RUS. Notice that the blue platform and the dash-dot tracks at the bottom are now built, but we still need to build the platform to its northeast as well as the tracks in the dashed line.

An old image that @dtraleigh took also shows you how tight of a squeeze this would be; the concrete pad is where the platform is expected to be built. As Owen said, squeezing two tracks, a fence, and a platform wide enough for an elevator and safe wheelchair movement into this open space where the excavator is would be really hard:

I agree, too. But then the question becomes whether taxpayers and Norfolk Southern would be okay with the extra cost and logistical complications of passenger-only platforms (including constructing pullouts, switches, and signals) at every station. I guess we’ll know when NS finishes their rail capacity modeling this December (!?)…


Gap fillers are the right answer to the problem of how to build high platforms.

FRA has supposedly been quite bullish on the technology, but agencies tend to be extremely conservative. They don’t want to be the first ones to move on an unproven technology.

Brightline is using them with great success, but there seems to be some reluctance on the part of commuter agencies to adopt them. Maybe they’re concerned that freight RR’s will reject them and continue to demand separate tracks or low platforms anyway. Brightline sidesteps this because they are owned by the same parent company as the company that runs freight on the line, Florida East Coast Industries.