Intercity Passenger Rail in North Carolina

Thought this may work best as a new topic, since it encompasses multiple routes to various cities (not just SEHSR) and doesn’t really qualify as transit in Raleigh. @dtraleigh, feel free to kill this topic if you feel there’s a good fit for this somewhere else, but I figured a catch-all for intercity passenger rail might be useful.

Jason Orthner, head NCDOT’S Rail Division, has informed the News & Observer that the studies for rail service to Wilmington and Asheville should both be done “in the next six to eight months.” They’re also, as previously mentioned, kicking off a study for service to Greenville, which should take about eighteen months. Phase 2 of the study for passenger rail between Raleigh and Fayetteville is on hold currently… my guess is because they’re waiting to see how the Wilmington study pans out (they’re studying two route options: via Goldsboro and via Fayetteville).

Edit: all that to say, it seems that NCDOT is currently considering as many as six new passenger rail services, five of which would pass through and/or terminate in Raleigh:

  1. Raleigh-Wilmington via Goldsboro or Fayetteville
  2. Raleigh-Greenville (possibly via Wendell or Selma)
  3. Raleigh-Fayetteville via Selma or Lillington
  4. Sanford-Henderson via Raleigh
  5. SEHSR via Raleigh and Henderson
  6. Asheville-Salisbury

Raleigh Union Station would essentially become North Carolina’s biggest passenger rail hub if even half of these came to fruition.


I honestly don’t have any desire to go to Fayetteville or Greenville ever, but a train to Asheville and Wilmington would be absolutely amazing to me. I’d probably go to each twice a year. Also all of these are definitely good for Raleigh, good for NC, and good for Union Station!


Fort Bragg and ECU. I’ve got family and things to see in both. Works for me!


Exactly. May not be useful to us specifically, but both will have draws among students, military, commuters, and even those just looking to head to Raleigh for the weekend. Lots of Fort Bragg guys come out here on Friday nights just to get a different bar scene.


The trip to Asheville would be as nice as rail-line goes through some very scenic mountains and a fairly long tunnel.


Yeah, Asheville’s line is definitely gonna be primarily for the scenery, not the convenience. It’s pretty zig-zaggy going up the mountains.


Being able to sleep on the way home Sunday after a big brewery crawl on Saturday would be extremely convenient!


Fayetteville and Wilmington, there’s really very little excuse for rail service not being in place already.

Asheville is nother matter. Here’s my thoughts from another thread. My estimation is that withiout improvements in the $billion range it’s a marginally useful service at best, even as a “rail cruise”

Here’s a tweet I did on what could be done to bypass the slowest part of the route. This sort of work isn’t cheap, though.


It is great that NC is taking passenger rail seriously.

Personally I could see taking a train to Wilmington. I do not like the idea of routing that through Goldsboro or Fayetteville though. Those are both very far out of the way and would add a lot of time. IMO, if you want it to succeed, you need to make it competitive with traveling by car.


I agree with you about Fayetteville being counterproductive, but that’s not true for Goldsboro; length-wise, the path you’d take to drive from RUS directly to the future Wilmington station site is only about two miles shorter than going along the existing rail line (and abandoned right-of-way) via Goldsboro:

From Raleigh to Goldsboro, you’d just go on the NCRR/Norfolk Southern line, so you’re already taking advantage of publicly-managed tracks that are relatively straight. The remaining area south of Goldsboro is also pretty straight and consists of tracks that are barely used (or even abandoned, in some parts). This should even let trains run faster than cars, given the right grade separation (replacing railroad crossings with bridges) and rolling stock (non-diesel trains). With those investments, the Goldsboro path still gives you a very solid approximation to I-40.


Unfortunately, there’s no direct route currently. Purchasing new ROW and building new track is going to take a lot more time and money than working with existing ROW.

I’m with @keita here. Of the two options, Goldsboro seems like a pretty solid bet and isn’t that far off from “as the crow flies.” Plus you’re connecting Raleigh (and Wilmington) to another military town by passenger rail, and you’re making it easier to extend service to New Bern and maybe even Jacksonville in the future, if you so choose.


Interesting, thanks. I assumed it would be much further bc it is so much further by car, but it sounds like this is how the existing railroad tracks go.


If I had the money and power for it, I’d stretch this even further, and maybe even serve Hatteras or Roanoke island via ferry transfer at Morehead City.

But obviously, even one out of the 6 routes NCDOT’s looking into would be significant investments that are far from guarantees; I’d be happy with any of them coming into fruition.


I agree that Goldsboro makes the most sense of the two. NCDOT owns and has been renovating the old Union Station there, and it would also allow for a connection to a future line to Kinston, New Bern, and Morehead City (which is identified in the state rail plan here: Though making a ferry transfer as @keita suggested would be difficult as NCDOT ferries currently do not serve the area (the closest is Cedar Island-Ocracoke). But that is certainly a good idea to consider when planning intermodal connectivity.


Just ran into an interesting article: this charter bus company recently launched a new bus service between Winston-Salem, Asheboro, Sanford, and Fayetteville!

Interestingly, this new service’s flyer says buses will ignore Greensboro (PART, the Triad’s counterpart to GoTriangle, already runs a Greensboro-Winston route), but will stop by downtown Lexington instead. If they make this service more frequent, it could be a nice extension of current Amtrak services (and a possible future S-line service from Raleigh to Sanford and beyond)!

This isn’t Sunway’s first scheduled bus service, either; twice-daily services exist from Greensboro to App State, as well as Boone to Charlotte.


Looking at the slides from today’s CAMPO meeting, and there’s a presentation from the NCDOT Rail Division. Not much new to report… still expecting a fifth roundtrip between Raleigh and Charlotte this year and a 2026 completion date for Charlotte Gateway. One thing that did catch my eye, however, was this:

I’ve seen several variations of this map in the past, but there’s some new stuff on here that I haven’t seen before. Very curious to see which ones they plan to apply for first. I believe we’ll know within the next few months, as the FRA is set to announce their first round of IIJA corridor selections next month (source):

Within 1 year of establishing the Program, and by February 1st of each year thereafter, FRA will submit a “project pipeline” report to Congress. As FRA established the Program on May 13, 2022, FRA will submit the first project pipeline report to Congress on or before May 13, 2023.

The project pipeline report: (1) identifies intercity passenger rail corridors selected for development under the Program; (2) identifies capital projects for Federal investment, project applicants, and proposed Federal funding levels, as applicable, consistent with the Corridor project inventory; (3) specifies the order in which the Secretary would provide Federal financial assistance to projects that have identified sponsors, including a method and plan for apportioning funds to project sponsors for a five-year period; (4) takes into consideration the appropriate sequence and phasing of projects described in the Corridor project inventory; (5) takes into consideration the existing commitments and anticipated Federal, project applicant, sponsor, and other relevant funding levels for the next 5 fiscal years; (6) is prioritized based on the level of readiness of the Corridor; and (7) reflects consultation with Amtrak.


I’m sure rail from Raleigh to Wilmington would be a boon for the day-trip beach crowd.


Would be absolutely packed on the weekends.


Agreed, the Wilmington route is a slam dunk in my mind. The corridor already exists, the City of Wilmington already owns the property where the station would be constructed, and everyone hates that drive (it’s not even scenic). Plus parking near almost any Wilmington beach is a nightmare. Get a connector shuttle that runs between downtown and the beach and boom, easy win.

Oh, and don’t forget the UNCW students. Considering how many college kids I see on the Piedmont during breaks (UNCC, UNCG, Elon, NC State, etc), that settles the question of ridership in the winter. Then you have companies like PPD that have office in both Wilmington and the Triangle, so there’s some business travel. Heck, I’d do a winter daytrip just to brewery hop; most of downtown is walkable.

The Amtrak Connects US site suggests an initial runtime of 2hrs, 48min. Considering there’d be four additional stops between Raleigh and Wilmington (Selma, Goldsboro, Warsaw, and Burgaw), that’s not bad at all, especially with how rough weekend traffic on I-40 can get. And those Eastern NC towns are going to draw ridership as well (especially Goldsboro with their historic downtown and an Air Force base). We all know how much that part of the state has struggled over the last few decades, so an economic opportunity like this would be huge.

I’d be very, very surprised if this didn’t end up being the first non S-Line route that NCDOT goes for.


I know there’s been talks of how far fetched an Asheville route is, but I see it as a new route on that map. Similar to Wilmington, Asheville would be a great option!