Train crash brings attention to speeds

May 14, 2010 5:41:41 PM PDT
Thursday's big crash in Mebane involving a big rig and a passenger train triggered the state to issue statements that high speed rail is on track.The crash in Mebane was at a railroad crossing with flashing warning signs which worked, but the high speed between Raleigh and Charlotte includes about 150 road crossings, some which have no lights or gates.

Amtrak runs at top speeds of 79 MPH between the two cities. The state eventually wants the trains to run faster at up to 90 MPH as part of the high speed rail project.

"High speed rail is among the most safe forms of transport in the world," said Pat Simmons with the North Carolina DOT.

The DOT has already made many improvements to what will be the high speed rail corridor between Raleigh and Charlotte. Some 50 of 200 roadway rail crossings have been closed.

Officials say the goal is to close all of them, eventually.

"We know that we can warn motorists, but we cannot prevent crossing collisions until we eliminate the crossings," Simmons said.

But closing railroad crossings is costly and can be controversial. The Town of Cary sprouted around a railroad stop.

"If they close every at-grade crossing, then they've cut the Town of Cary in half," Cary Town Council Member Don Frantz said.

Some alternatives are building bridges or tunnels above and below the tracks.

DOT has won $545 million in stimulus money for high speed rail improvements. But the total cost from Charlotte to Raleigh then Richmond, Virginia is over $5 billion.

"We've made a lot of progress," Simmons said. "We're not going to complete the job overnight. It's something we're doing incrementally as we have funding available and complete the projects."

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