Rail Line to Fuquay-Varina


A point not salient to your main point, but I think FV will remain behind Wake Forest and Holly Springs (and of course Apex, Cary and Raleigh) because those other two are closer to RTP, DTR and DTD. FV is still perceived as Harnett County by a lot of folks, to boot. But…I would hope it can be roped into the long range transit plan with a light rail stop in both Fuquay Springs and Varina Station (the historical centers of the former towns).


This seems like an incredibly expensive project for a greenway. What benefits would RR get for giving up an active track? From what I understand, the RR will not budge an inch on their land, much less give up an active track. We have good greenway infrastructure around here so we really don’t need one going straight through the park. Also, the master plan is almost finalized so if there was a chance of this happening, I think they would have worked toward that.



@TedF I’ll document this in my article with photos, but I live along this railroad line. The line runs through an area that is ultra-low density. In the coming years, I’m sure it’ll see continued growth, with more frequent pockets of low-density housing and commerce, but you’re never going to see high density built along that corridor. It’s always going to be low-density. A lot of it is wetlands, and other parts run along existing low-density development with SFDH on huge lots. Seriously, you’re just surrounded by open country as far as the eye can see.

And while Fuquay itself is going to continue to grow significantly, there isn’t really much demand for trips from Fuquay to downtown Raleigh specifically. (Believe me, I commute on 401 every day.) Most people in Fuquay work locally, or in RTP, or Cary, or anywhere other than downtown Raleigh. And with exactly one viable stop (Wake Tech) anywhere between Fuquay and Raleigh, there wouldn’t be anywhere else that line would be taking people. Sure, you’d get some traffic to Dix Park and the Farmer’s Market, but nothing close to what would be needed to sustain a light rail.

From terminus to terminus, the greenway would be roughly 26 miles, which is kind of long for one light rail line, and incredibly long for a line with only a handful of stops. (For perspective, the Charlotte Lynx Blue Line is 19 miles and has 26 stops.)

Light rail construction costs roughly $35 million per mile on average in the U.S. Admittedly there’s a lot of variation, but assuming average costs, you’re looking at $910 million in 2018 dollars, and that doesn’t even count the cost of acquiring the right-of-way from the railroad, which would surely push the cost closer to one billion. The question is not whether a light rail connecting Fuquay and Raleigh might be nice to have someday, the question is whether it would ever be valuable enough to justify spending a billion dollars of taxpayer money on it.

That’s simply never going to happen in any of our lifetimes, and so there’s really no viable prospect of build a light rail along that line in our lifetimes. That’s just not an opportunity cost we’re facing with this.


@Straggler Right now we don’t have any estimate of what the cost would be, which is obviously less than ideal. I am, and all the people I’ve talked to about this are, realistic about the challenges inherent in this idea. It’s possible that the cost of land acquisition could ultimately prove to be an insurmountable sticking point. But until we reach a point of having serious conversations about it, there’s no way to know what kind of deal could be reached that could be mutually agreeable to all stakeholders.

This proposed greenway would connect with Lake Wheeler Trail, so would really enhance the existing good greenway infrastructure and open it up to a large swath of the county.


I would not be opposed to building a greenway alongside the existing RR with the intention of having the RR corridor available for an eventual light rail or commuter train. This type of infrastructure is referred to as “rails with trails”:

Since freight hauling is the current usage on this track I would think that eventual conversion to a commuter rail with trail arrangement would still require transfer of ownership of the existing RR corridor from Norfolk Southern to either a municipality or regional transit authority - maybe Go Triangle.

But will there ever be enough demand to support the cost of developing light rail in this corridor? I don’t know. I agree that completion of 540 through that area will result in increased density, but it seems more likely to attract people commuting to RTP than to DTR.


Straggler - You’re right we do have good greenway infrastructure around here, but two things stand out on the map, which is available here:


  1. The vast majority of greenway miles in proximity to DTR have a roughly east/west orientation. There is only one major north/south connector - House Creek Trail in the NW part of the city.
  2. The southern section of I-40/440 is a barrier to additional north/south greenway connectivity.

Connecting greenways across interstate highway is a challenge because of the volume of car traffic at existing road crossings and the need to keep peds and cyclists separated from cars using on and off ramps. Using the existing RR corridor as a greenway would get around that challenge by using the existing RR bridge over I-40/440.

I think there is a need to have a greenway through Dix park because Dix park is going to help drive further development - particularly in areas just south of the beltline. The Southern Gateway project will also be a driver of development in this part of town. As development continues in this area it seems smart to plan non-motor vehicle options for getting people to/from Dix, the farmer’s market, and DTR.



I can see that you are passionate about this subject, but I think that we will just disagree. We just see facts differently. Fuquay Varina is already growing at a phenomenal rate and is working to expand their ETJ another 3 miles outward in some places. I am serious that in my opinion they will pass Holly Springs and eventually Wake Forest in population in the maybe somewhat distant future. And that whole 401 corridor will become a huge mass of businesses and apartments and townhouses. Once 540 comes it will happen fast. And knowing that, I am not quite so ready as you are to abandoning the entire Fuquay Varina and Southern Garner areas to never having mass transit. Note that I am aware that not many people want to go to just Downtown Raleigh. But it’s clear to me that from downtown Raleigh that by that time they will be able to continue on to NC State, Cary, RDU, RTP, Durham, etc… So again I love greenways and go on them often, but I just cannot see this becoming one…


From Fuquay Varina, it’s 30 miles to Fort Bragg and 40 miles to downtown Fayetteville. Wouldn’t that be an interesting extension for a regional rail system.

That’s not such a leap compared with the 27 miles between the downtowns of Raleigh and Durham, a segment already planned.


FWIW, by the shortest route via US70, DT Raleigh and DT Durham are just under 23 miles.


@Brian and @daviddonovan, when you pitch this don’t pitch it as shutting down and buying out the entire railroad line for a greenway. That pitch will fall on deaf ears and I personally would not support it either.

The main reason is that, if this corridor is abandoned, the chances of coming up with another railroad corridor to replace it is absolutely nil. Once it’s gone, it’s never coming back. Maybe someday there will be a big economic development opportunity in southern Wake that depends on railroad access. Development will eventually fill in along the corridor as well. Don’t throw it away.

On the other hand, it is entirely possible to come up with a satisfactory greenway corridor from Fuquay to Raleigh. Plus, if we’d just get our priorities straight, we’d realize that we’d get a lot more bang for the buck with protected cycle facilities along roads.

My pitch is to take just the most critical segment, the one connecting downtown, Dix, and Walnut Creek, and build a bypass for it just south of downtown, taking advantage of the fact that it runs roughly parallel to the NCRR for several miles south of downtown, thus rendering the railroad whole in the end with a great public amenity gained and no transportation value lost.

One thing I would support, however, is turning the remaining segments of the long-abandoned Durham & Southern line from Apex to Fuquay into a rail-trail greenway. Parts of the right-of-way are already built over, but if somebody were to articulate a clear vision, we could potentially preserve the remaining segments and find a way to stitch them together.


@orluz - reading back through this thread I see you know more about RRs than I do.

Honest question here - what type of possible economic development opportunity would depend on RR access in to DTR? It looks like there are other RR lines in southern Wake but they don’t go into DTR. Wouldn’t those be options for future economic development needs?

I would think that a greenway/commuter rail corridor between FV and DTR would itself spur economic development by encouraging development all along that corridor.

I would love to see more protected cycle facilities along roads, but I’m not sure how you build truly protected facilities that can get cyclists through interstate interchanges. Following Lake Wheeler Road would make the most sense for protected cycle facilities to/from Dix from the south, but what do you do at I-40? Would the bike lanes just end there? That’s why using the existing RR bridge is so appealing.

I like your idea of building a bypass for the RR just south of downtown and agree that whatever happens the RR needs to be made whole in the end. But if I’m following your map correctly wouldn’t your bypass idea require getting a RR over/under/around I-40? That seems hugely expensive.

Yet again, finding a way to get people and stuff across I-40 that doesn’t require automobiles seems to be the challenge. Have other cities overcome this? Surely there are examples out there we can learn from?

Thanks for furthering the conversation.


@orulz I’m just now discovering this post (probably thanks to Leo creating a new thread), and it looks really interesting. Obviously I’d love to have a greenway from DTR to Fuquay, but this plan would preserve some of the best aspects of that plan–getting freight rail out of Dix Park, connecting Dix Park to Pullen Park via a bridge over Western Blvd., connecting the north-south greenway to Walnut Creek Trail, and extending the greenway south over I-40 via the bridge there. And it certainly seems from the plan you’ve drawn up that this could be done for a reduced cost, with a clearer plan for getting buy-in from the railroad. It’s clear that you really know a lot about this, and have spent a lot of time thinking about it. Thank you for sharing this vision!

I wonder if, let’s say just for a second that this vision could be turned into reality, the greenway portion could be extended further, either through trails-along-rails, or some alternative path that wouldn’t impede upon the railroad’s right-of-way?


I don’t believe there is any possibility that Norfolk Southern would simply relinquish the line to Fuquay-Varina. Although there are no significant freight customers on the line as far south as F-V, it provides NS with access to their line between F-V and Fayetteville – a line which does have significant business, such as the Goodyear plant in Fayetteville that employs 2000+ people. If the line was not a source of profit, NS would not have retained it.

There is a possibility that NS will sell or lease the line to a non-unionized railroad that could operate it more cost-effectively, but that’s TBD and it wouldn’t really change the fact that the line is economically important for manufacturing.

NS has a written policy on passenger rail within its right of way. NCRR between Charlotte and Greensboro is a special case, but otherwise the position is clear: government pays for everything including separate trackage, and government bears risks up to the extent that the law allows.


I too think Norfolk Southern would not agree to give up the whole line nor should we ever ask them to. It’s a valuable transportation corridor.

What I would try to do, is buy the 2.5 miles of railroad immediately south out of downtown Raleigh (through Dix Park and until just past the I-40 bridge), and build a ‘belt line’ bypass sort of thing parallel to I-40 to connect it to the NCRR.

This has the following benefits from their perspective:

(1) It allows Norfolk-Southern to realize a great deal of one-time revenue through a high value real estate transaction.
(2) It allows the diamond west of the Boylan Wye to be decommissioned, which allows for simpler operations on the much busier mainline. The headaches will only increase when commuter trains start rolling through Raleigh.
(3) It retains freight service to every single existing freight customer on the line.

I’ve gone back and forth on what I think is the form such a bypass should take. The above is one possibility.

As far as geometry is concerned, I think what is depicted is fairly reasonable. 5 degree curves and a 1% grade. It is a little curvier, longer, and steeper than the portion of alignment they would be vacating, but well within the parameters of what exists elsewhere on the line and so wouldn’t require trains to be any shorter or the engines to be any more powerful. It also skips the diamond and two at-grade crossings at Maywood St and Lake Wheeler Rd, so, on the whole: even trade?


I like this idea, and I like the idea of more commuter rail everywhere now that Union Station is active. There needs to be more daily stops and more lines going into that station, and this local FV line would be a great one. Hopefully HSR will come through, light rail, and more charlotte to raleigh traffic.


As for HSR, the only improvements on the horizon for Raleigh-Charlotte are stations (Charlotte, Hillsborough, Lexington), another siding or two between Greensboro and Durham, a few curve-straightening projects, and an increase of top speed from 79 to 90 mph. Not the difference between night and day, in other words. There are semantic arguments about what “high speed” means, but most people interpret it to mean 110 mph or faster. In that sense, there is not even a dream at present about high speed rail between Raleigh and Charlotte. The only high speed dream, and it’s very much a dream with little chance of being funded in the next 20 years, is Raleigh-Petersburg.

The other thing to bear in mind about commuter service in Raleigh is the finite capacity of the station just constructed. Unlike RDU where the airport can easily expand the terminals and the runways, the site selected by the City is inherently constrained. Yes, it will handle some commuter trains but the question is how many.


There’s no question, NS certainly isn’t going to give it up out of the goodness of their hearts or anything, and that they would insist on some sort of fair compensation, which is entirely reasonable.

You mention that you go back and forth on what form the bypass should take. I saw a previous plan you created where it came over 40 and picked up the existing railroad north of 40. In your view, what are the pluses and minuses of each possibility?

I’m really intrigued and impressed by your work, by the way, and the level of thoughtfulness apparent in it. My perfect-world dream would be to just turn it all into a greenway, but the obstacles to that may simply be insurmountable. Whereas this vision you’ve presented would be a vast, vast improvement over the current situation while also seeming like it might actually be achievable.


The only reason these two separate routes out of downtown Raleigh exist in the first place is that they were built at different times by two different railroads that were competing with each other. Now that they are both controlled by Norfolk-Southern, the second line south of downtown Raleigh has no reason whatsoever to exist anymore.

So the tradeoffs, as I see them, are between things like geometry in terms of curvature, grades, length of bridges, stream/wetland impacts, property impacts, and of course complexity and cost.

If you branch off just north of I-40 (my previous suggestion) then you can have more gradual 4 degree curves, and impact fewer properties, but you wind up having to cross Walnut Creek, its wetlands, and I-40 on several new bridges, at least one of which would be rather long. The thinking was to give the railroad the best alternative possible from their perspective, no matter the cost, to just get them at the table, but now I’m thinking that might be too expensive and sticky from an impact standpoint, and might be overkill from their perspective anyway, since there are several curves sharper than 4 degrees on this same line between Raleigh and Fuquay.

Branching off south of I-40 while using the existing bridge under Hammond seems like it would be the simplest to construct, with just two new bridges (one carrying S Wilmington over the new tracks, and another carrying the new tracks over S Saunders). Most of the fill dirt needed for new embankments could be taken from excavations elsewhere in the project, which saves money on trucking dirt to or from the project site, and in spite of all this it still has a reasonable level of property impacts, but it does require 5 degree curves, which are slower.

Really anywhere north of about Vandora Springs Road should be considered, since the railroads are roughly parallel and about 2 miles apart or less. South of there they start to split further apart. In that space, there are other places that might make sense as well. Near Rush Street and Peach Road is the shortest total distance. Just north of Garner Station Boulevard would be a place where there would be no residential impacts at all. There may be other places that make even more sense that I’m not seeing.

Anyway, this sort of project would probably need a full alternatives analysis and environmental impact statement, and take a decade or so from concept to completion. My goal is not to pretend I’m a PE and sell any specific solution as “what must be done” but instead just to show that legitimate options probably do exist, and hope that somebody, somewhere, likes what they see and takes it seriously enough to actually look into it. So far, no dice on that one.

Railroad relocations happen all the time. They’re not that big of a deal. There was one such project in downtown Columbia SC not that long ago, and they’re thinking about doing another one there sometime soon. Back in the 1960s, the Southern RR did something sort of similar to this (though actually much larger in scope) in Charlotte, which eventually left open the right-of-way that became the Blue Line light rail through South End.


One of the main issues against this is that you would likely have to use eminent domain to acquire the right-of-way necessary to realign the tracks as you depict. The pushback would be so fierce that this would never be allowed to happen. It’s one thing to use eminent domain when an interstate is constructed or when an airport builds a new runway, but to use it for a park, I don’t see that happening. The benefit to the railroad would be minimal. Yeah, the diamond is eliminated, but you also just created an expensive s-curve.


I’m an attorney who writes frequently about the use of eminent domain, and I’m extremely curious what leads you to think this.

I assume you’re talking about the pushback against acquiring the land where the new railroad would run, not the existing railroad itself. But literally the whole point of public domain is to seize land that the owner doesn’t want to sell. If the state wants to take it, they can just take it. Nobody else has to allow it. The state seizes land for transportation projects all the time, and they often get pushback to it, and they just do it anyway.

I’m sure the individual landowners affected would be unhappy, but I don’t see any reason why there would be any broader community opposition to this.

As for getting the buy-in from Norfolk Southern, the idea here is to create a plan that they would sign on to. (There are some federal laws implicated when you’re talking about railroads, but these are unlikely to be dealbreakers.) If the state and city are adamant that they want to get this thing moved, they can get it moved.