Light Rail: What works for Raleigh


It would be interesting to know the predominant commute patterns of Apex residents.

I tend to envision it as 2 intersecting lines:

  1. Durham though Cary and Raleigh to Clayton, and
  2. Apex through Cary and Raleigh to Wake Forest

People heading from Apex to RTP/Durham would make a cross-platform change in Cary.


Refurbished gets you a lot more bang for the buck when you are starting out. Virtually every commuter system in this country started out with used equipment. Considering that the Garner to Durham line alone would need about 10-12 locomotives + coaches I don’t see how new equipment is even an initial consideration.


Because the new crashworthiness regulations instantly made all existing passenger rail equipment in the US hopelessly obsolete. Plenty of recently opened commuter rail lines ordered new trains on day one. Denver, SMART in California, Tex Rail in DFW. If we opt for old Amtrak locomotives hauling used Bombarider bilevels, (or worse, retired Metra gallery cars) the poor acceleration will tie us down to a system with stations spaced too widely apart.

According to the blog, a locomotive hauled train accelerates to 60mph in 166 seconds (almost 3 minutes!) An old US spec DMU can do it in 123 seconds; a European DMU can do the same in just 40 seconds. For comparison, an electric European train can do this in 27.

If it takes you almost 3 minutes to get up to speed, you can see why you’d want to have as few stops as possible. If you can accelerate in 40 seconds, you could have twice as many stops, maybe more, and still do the run in the same amount of time.

This matches up with my experience riding Metra from Arlington Heights to Chicago on the UPNW line. Express trains usually make all stops inbound until Park Ridge, and the train just crawls through this segment, even though the stops are a reasonable 1-3 miles apart. Then it really gets to stretch its legs as there is a 10 mile segment with no stops where it can reach its top speed of 80 mph and keep it there for a long time.

Refurbished locomotives and coaches work fine for Amtrak, where the closest stations are like Raleigh and Cary, 8 miles apart, and average spacing is more like 20 or 30 miles. But for commuter service, they are just awful. Sell the used locomotives and commuter coaches for scrap.


Thanks for running down that number. The $1 billion figure had stuck in my head, but I couldn’t remember where I had read it. That’s good to have a more specific figure, and properly sourced.

You’re right, though, that does seem awfully high given the infrastructure that already exists.


I was just thinking about this as well. The problem I see is that once you get west of Apex, there’s not really anything else there to pick up. So I think an Apex-Cary shuttle might make a lot of sense.


Not high at all. In fact not nearly enough money. Compare to the Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit project continues to push through the changes on its track to secure nearly $1.5 billion in state and federal money. The 17.7-mile system is part of each county’s transit plans and could cost $3.3 billion, including interest in short- and long-term loans. Local money and private donations would pay what the federal government does not.


The scope, as I understand it, may be to double track the whole NCRR from Raleigh to Durham, add passing tracks down to Garner, and build some stations. That is not an easy job per se, but not $880 million worth of work - unless they are planning on bundling grade separation of nearly every single road in the corridor into the project. I am a big fan of grade separations but not of spending transit money on them. They primarily benefit road users so IMO they should be built using more plentiful highway funds.


On the FAQs page on the Go Triangle website > Direct quote > Transportation studies showed that a continuously connected rail line to RDU and RTP would not be warranted or cost effective based on estimated demand. RTP has a significant number of jobs, but they are widely distributed compared with those in Chapel Hill and Durham. This dispersed development pattern is not conducive to rail service. Wake County is also planning for transit by evaluating potential transit corridors. For more information, please see


Responding to comments from earlier in the day about rolling stock, I also agree that commuter/regional rail might not be as expensive as we’d think, if we use more modern trains. Also, with the relaxed crashworthiness standards (important citations are important), I wonder if Siemens or Alstrom would want to build manufacturing facilities for DMUs around here?

That could make it even cheaper to build/set up the trains, obviously, compared to older American-designed train. But it could also bring more jobs for eastern North Carolina if commuter rail proposals in DC/Baltimore (see these two articles) or Atlanta come through. …those are pretty big potential political points, too, in the name of still-needed hurricane recovery.

As for using highway funds for grade separation like @orulz is suggesting, I think that can be easily justified. You’d have to pair it with private/commercial development (see the area near State Fairgrounds in the Raleigh-Cary Rail Crossing Study) or existing proposals by the state (see its plan to eventually separate McCrimmon Pkwy. from the NCRR tracks near NC-54) and make a good case to do that, though.


Potential Raleigh, you should check this link out that triangle J COG shared a while back you can use it to find the commuting habits of different municipalities. I did a look up on each city in Wake County and the number of people who stay in the city for work, come to the city, and leave the city. Rolesville is a lol . image Here is Holly Springs for reference


Given the data set of stay vs go commuting presented above, it is clear FV is pretty far down the list. Areas of focus should remain west of Raleigh along the Cary/Apex/HS line up to RTP and into DTR/CH/DUR (Garner and WF)


A lot of people talk about our historical pattern of development as a reason to not do commuter rail. On the contrary, the development follows the mode of transportation so that commuter rail leads to a lot of development in nodes within a short walk of the stops. Historical development patterns are not a reason NOT to do rail. They are a reason TO do rail.


If you’re looking at Raleigh as a whole, that’s true. But it’s important to put all ideas into the context of each corridor -and the Raleigh-to-RDU corridor is less dense, already-developed, and is the post-Reagan and sprawly kind of suburbs. This area is not the mixed-use kind of environment that the New Bern BRT corridor is, so you have to address a different need when you build transit there. To make a competitive alternative to commuting through I-40, you need:

  • a limited number of stops
  • reliable, frequent (read: effectively on-demand) service
  • separation between traffic to/from RDU (airport), Raleigh (urban), Durham/RTP (work), Cary/Apex (residential), and elsewhere

Traditional BRT uses frequent stops and rights-of-way/infrastructure that is shared with car traffic. Unless you use traffic-priority transponders (which usually comes on the chopping block when people get pissy about budgets) or you build exclusive rights-of-way (i.e. build busways whose prices aren’t that much cheaper than rail), you’d be wielding the wrong tool for the job.

Maybe you could get away with building BRT if you also offer express service (like express subways in New York or Tokyo, which only make limited stops). But at that point, I don’t think it’s obvious anymore that one modality is better than the other. If so, if you need to build new infrastructure for a competitive BRT system, wouldn’t it be reasonable to at least think about commuter/regional rail as a solid option as an alternative to driving along the RTP-Raleigh stretch of I-40?

Didn’t that study assume that the light rail line would just end at RDU (and wasn’t it from like the mid-2000s, before Southpoint became big/before we really started growing)? If so, there’s no way the study took things like Brier Creek, RDU’s international expansions, and RTP Park Center into consideration. I remember coming across that study a while back, too, and feeling like the assumptions it made in its data collections were outdated or just plain wrong.

In the interests of looking beyond this specific corridor, though…

This, plus the link you shared for census-based commuting patterns. Is that the only level of data the J CoG made available? Or can we break those numbers down into even more granular units? If we want to break this self-fulfilling prophecy of sprawl and car dependence, I feel like it’s important to get a feel of just where and how people are flowing every day.


I thought this article was good for this thread

" Cities could get more people walking, biking, and riding transit, according to a new report, if they just know where to look for improvement."


…and it looks like GoTriangle’s trying to do that.

They quietly came up with a list of standards and principles to make that Durham-Garner commuter rail project (see page 5 onwards)!


The first thing that strikes me is the station spacing guidelines of a station every 2 miles in more dense areas, and 5 miles in less dense areas. I suppose the question is what you consider more and less dense, and whether you are looking at current or future density. Does the density more or less end at the beltline, or is it dense all the way out to RTP with a few mile gap between there and east Durham?

In central Raleigh, 2.5 mile spacing would add a Fairgrounds station between NCSU and West Raleigh which I think is absolutely essential as this is far and away the best TOD opportunity in the city, with Gregory Poole Equipment and the NCDOT facility. 1.25 mile spacing would add stops at Gorman, Jones Franklin, and Maynard, all of which would also be good spots for TOD.

It doesn’t mention a specific vehicle technology but the peer comparisons run the gamut from conventional locomotive hauled trains to DMUs to EMUs.


I would be interested to know whether or not the readers in this forum consider Charlotte’s light rail a success?


I would say it is a success.


A good starting point with lots of public transit is defining what success means


Isn’t it too early to tell for Charlotte? The Lynx Blue Line extension opened just last year (and that line didn’t have connections to any real, meaningful transit-oriented developments until then), so I think you need to wait a bit longer to make that call.

It looks like it’s getting a good public first impression, but there’s still some critical concerns and important variables that haven’t really come into play yet.

@CanesFan why do you think it’s (already?) a success?