GoTriangle Commuter Rail 2023 AMA

Representatives from GoTriangle’s commuter rail planning project will be back the DTRaleigh Community on Feb. 3, 2023 from 11am to 12pm EST! It turns out it is physically and financially realistic to have all-day regional rail between Durham, Cary, Raleigh, and Garner, but there’s a few design compromises and delays that would have to happen to make it possible.

Click here for an interactive summary of what a future upgrade for our region could entail.

If you’re new to this website, please be sure to make an account (it’s free!) so that you can post questions and be a part of our community! Anyone in the public can read this thread, but you must be a signed-in member to participate.


I’ll kick things off!

I’ve noticed that ridership projections for the Eastern and Central options are equal at about 4000 daily boardings. I’m assuming this is working off of existing development and transportation patterns and not factoring in potential transit-oriented development. As I’m sure you know, proper TOD could dramatically influence those numbers, especially with consistent all-day headways.

That said, will the prospect of TOD and its influence on ridership be taken into consideration when selecting a corridor? Similarly, how much of a push will there be to encourage municipalities on the corridor to implement TOD in station areas? I have very high hopes for this project and want to see it succeed, but it’d be really unfortunate to spend such effort and resources only to end up having two-thirds of the stations looking like this:

Thanks so much for doing this again and for your continued efforts to increase transportation options and reduce car-dependency in the Triangle!


I’ll take a stab at some questions, too. But before that, thank you, again, for willing to come back and talk to us, @GoTriangle!

I recognize that several of these questions are very blunt and probably difficult to answer. However, please know that as a regular GoTriangle rider (and as the person who helped facilitate this AMA), I mean this as a genuine question with no intentions except to strengthen our region’s chances of having serious mass transit infrastructure.

  • Assuming that our counties decide GTCR should be pursued, why should Triangle residents (continue to) trust GoTriangle as an institution?

  • And similarly, if the GTCR does proceed into project development, why is GoTriangle a good sponsor or lead agency for this project?

Click here for additional clarifications for the above question.

It sounds to me like there’s a default assumption that GoTriangle has to be the operating agency of the GTCR just because it’s the regional transit agency. However, some of us in this community wonders if this is true or useful. There’s some structural changes that you could imagine would let GoTriangle launch the project successfully -such sharing the lead role with a partner whose strengths are GoTriangle’s weaknesses.

For example, you could start a public-private partnership with a developer (somewhat like recent efforts by Florida’s Brightline) or even Norfolk Southern’s real estate division to optimize opportunities for transit-oriented developments (one key reason why transit companies in countries like Japan can be profitable without government intervention).

Alternatively, you could see how seriously our state wants to execute its state rail plan and public transportation strategic plan by passing the ball to the state. This could be done by transforming the NC By Train brand into a full-fledged, state-supported rail agency just like Virginia’s VPRA, New Jersey Transit, or Connecticut’s CTrail.

Click here to see additional context for the above question.

In the last AMA from 2021, the topic of level boarding came up:

I noticed that GoTriangle worked on this in more detail (thank you!), and this is noted deep in the report’s appendix where there’s a discussion on how we could try to prefer 22/25/48-inch-high (level boarding-friendly) platforms over 8-inch-high (freight-friendly) ones.

It’s also noted that gauntlet tracks could help build stations in space-limited parts of downtown and eastern Durham, but “there are no active gauntlet tracks on NS territory, and it has been advised by NCRR that NS strongly discourages the use of gauntlet tracks”.

With all of that in mind, it looks like one (of many) tough design-related decisions we’ll need to make in the future is whether (and how) the GTCR will provide level boarding for passengers with mobility challenges. It get that that seems inevitable, unfortunately, because of the complicated track constraints.

  • What is general vibe of GoTriangle staff involved in this study on whether we’ll be able to move forward with more investments in this project and/or making something actually happen? Is the staff generally optimistic, internally? Or are y’all more cautious and wary of external stakeholders?

Has any thought been put into branding the train line at key high-visibility locations? For example:

  • the rail bridge over 440 along Hillsborough
  • the bridge over I-40 near Miami Blvd

This may seem silly, but I think sexy branding is important in general, and especially at high visibility locations like highway crossings. Reference: Brightline


That’s a great idea they could advertise it as “The crawl below us frustrating you well we’re riding with style”.

I have a few more questions -just to remind everyone that this is still happening (and y’all can still ask questions for GoTriangle to answer tomorrow, too):

  • What could GoTriangle (and we, the people) do to make it cheaper, quicker, or otherwise easier to make commuter rail into a reality? Of course, detailed designs, value engineering etc. are major things that will be worked on in the future if our elected leaders decide to move forth with this project. But what is in the realm of possibilities, today?

  • How much will GoTriangle be involved in following through with its recommendations on land use around future rail stations? Will GoTriangle lease off land to commercial developers in a partnership like RUSbus? Will it hope for the best from market forces by letting developers (and cities, for publicly-owned properties) take charge? Or will GoTriangle take a more active leadership role to make sure transit-friendly land uses are made into reality?

  • We know that there’s a lot of complex repercussions and headaches as a result of this feasibility study. But let’s look at the bright side: what are you surprised or happy about, as a result of the latest study?


My question will seem odd in comparison to the rest, but I would appreciate a response, thank you!

  • What can and will GoTriangle do to help make this Commuter Rail project achieve its own “unique character”? Station designs, sure. Overall branding, absolutely. But something more than the same ole thing, something that says THIS is the Triangle! (something that can help bring the Triangle together if you will) Thank you for your time and answering our questions!

The 2040 ridership projections are based on the land use model that is based on the land use model that is used for the 2050 Metropolitan Transportation Plan, which is jointly created and adopted by CAMPO and DCHC MPO. That plan includes more transit supportive land use than exists today along transit corridors including commuter rail. However, it does not reflect detailed TOD plans and regulations that would be developed by municipalities along the corridor. There is the potential for those plans to support density that generates more ridership than is reflected in the model today.


Land use and economic development related to TOD are critical components of federal criteria for project justification. Local land use plans supportive of TOD are important measures that local jurisdictions can take to support federal transit investments.


Regarding trust and project sponsorship, GoTriangle has decades of experience planning and designing regional passenger rail transit projects. We look forward to working with our partners to move projects forward that meet the region’s transit needs. For the Greater Triangle Commuter Rail feasibility study, we have a Memorandum of Understanding with CAMPO, DCHC MPO, NCDOT, NCRR, Durham County, Wake County, and Johnston County to clarify our roles and responsibilities. A key element of the feasibility study has been to assess project implementation risks to inform stakeholder decisions about whether or how to move forward with an investment in regional passenger rail service.


The primary reasoning for surface parking at most stations is that it limits project cost, however GoTriangle views station areas, including publicly owned land, as opportunities for future transit-oriented development. One way to think about surface parking at stations is to consider it as a kind of land-banking strategy to support compact, walkable development patterns in station areas in the future. Should the project move forward these opportunities could be evaluated in more detail through a transit-oriented development study.


We’ve met with both the Raleigh and Durham Mayor’s Committees for Persons with Disabilities and what we heard was that level boarding is the preferred approach, however, it’s not the only consideration when it comes to making transit and transit stations accessible. We will continue to assess the feasibility and acceptability of level boarding at stations including opportunities for mini-high platforms, but we will also plan for other important accessibility-related infrastructure like lighting, accessible way-finding, tactile wayfinding, audible announcements, consistent station layouts, connections to paratransit vehicles, sidewalk infrastructure, and connections to transit routes.


The vibe is public service. As GoTriangle staff we will continue to do our best to serve the public through the planning and operation of fast and reliable transit service.


We are still early in the life cycle for this project, but should a project move forward we look forward to developing a cohesive brand with input from the public and our partners. We like the idea to catch attention, and we have some other good examples from Chicago and Boston. Thinking about the Brightline example, there are lot of take-aways for creating a seamless user experience for regional passenger rail service in the Triangle.


@GoTriangle_Planning thank you so much for taking the time to do this AMA with us.

Obviously, this is styled as “commuter rail,” but what sort of vision is in place to try to eventually expand this into a service that features frequent and reliable all-day service? How realistic is that, and what sort of timeline might be reasonable to think about? Thank you!


We would suggest to continue working with local elected officials to develop land use plans that support major transit investments. This will help us access federal funding for large projects.

The results of the feasibility study indicate that the infrastructure needed to support a higher frequency regional passenger rail service is significant, and the coordination needed with partners in the corridor is substantial. We’ve learned through the study that adding additional capacity to the corridor will require continued negotiations, time, and effort, and that adding any trains beyond what is currently contemplated for intercity passenger rail service will require infrastructure that supports additional capacity in the corridor.


Should a project move forward, GoTriangle would work with local jurisdictions on TOD station area plans that would, among other goals, identify actions for GoTriangle, local jurisdictions with land use authority, and developers to support TOD within station areas. We suspect that each station will be different and there could be opportunities for public-private partnerships in station areas.


We’ll need your help with that! As part of a larger engagement effort, GoTriangle will utilize stakeholder input to develop the character of stations and other project-related components. We’re not at the stage, in the process of developing a large project like this one, where we’re preparing to design stations and station-area plans, but we’ll keep you posted.