High-speed passenger train service, potentially traveling at 150 miles per hour, could connect Charlotte, Greenville and Atlanta to the Southeast High Speed Rail corridor already being studied for service between Washington, D.C. and Charlotte. A favorable feasibility study for such an addition was released on Jan. 8 by transportation officials in the three states involved.
The study looked at capacity and speed capabilities, along with possible ridership, revenue and costs to extend service along the I-85 corridor. Additional stops considered by the study included Gastonia, N.C.; Spartanburg and Clemson, S.C.; and Toccoa and Gainesville, Ga. The route studied would move access some 60 miles closer to Asheville by adding the Greenville stop.
Estimated costs under varying scenarios for the additional 365-mile corridor addition range from $3.2 million per mile for lower-speed diesel provisions (90 to 110 mph) to $7.8 million per mile for electrified service (150 to 200 mph). The analysis covered the years 2015 to 2040 and projected relatively steady ridership increases due to projected growth in population in the region, as well as increases in income and travel. Ridership would dictate increases in revenues, it was noted, with profitability projected by around 2032.
North Carolina and Virginia transportation departments began initial environmental work on the original Washington-Charlotte corridor of SEHSR in the mid-1990s, following authorization by Congress in 1991 of a program of national high-speed rail corridors. The SEHSR in Virginia and North Carolina was one of the five original corridors designated by the U.S. Department of Transportation in 1992.
In the feasibility study announcement, S.C. Transportation Secretary H.B. “Buck” Limehouse, Jr called the proposed new corridor “one of the top mega-regions of the nation. We absolutely must be planning ways to connect it with our neighbors to the northeast in energy-responsible ways. This analysis helps to better position ourselves for high speed rail should sufficient funding be appropriated.”
— Nelda Holder, associate editor