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Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is the Southeast High Speed Rail Corridor?
The Southeast High Speed Rail Corridor (SEHSR) is one of five originally proposed high speed passenger rail corridors designated by the US Department of Transportation (USDOT) in 1992. The corridor was designated as running from Washington, DC through Richmond, VA and Raleigh, NC to Charlotte, NC with maximum speeds of 110 mph. It is part of an overall plan to extend service from the existing high speed rail on the Northeast Corridor (Boston to Washington) to points in the Southeast.

Amtrak ACELA

The USDOT in 1995 extended the SEHSR to Hampton Roads, VA. In 1998, the USDOT created two more extensions:
1) from Charlotte through Spartanburg and Greenville, SC to Atlanta, GA and on through Macon, GA to Jacksonville, FL, and
2) from Raleigh through Columbia, SC and Savannah, GA to Jacksonville, FL and from Atlanta to Birmingham, AL.

2. Why is SEHSR needed?
The highways of the region and the airports along the Eastern seaboard simply cannot handle thegrowing traffic volumes. An affordable, modern, timely alternative to driving crowded interstates or flying short distances is required.

3. What is the current status of SEHSR?
Initial environmental studies and public hearings were completed in Fall 2001. This effort examined the need for the project and looked at potential impacts on both natural and man made environments along nine possible routes.

A recommendation report was completed in early 2002, indicating that the route with the best potential for high-speed rail service and the fewest environmental impacts would run from Richmond, through South Hill, VA to Norlina, Raleigh, Greensboro (with a connection to Winston-Salem) and Charlotte, NC. The route follows a combination of existing railroads and preserved rail corridors.

The Federal Railroad Administration and the Federal Highway Administration issued a Record of Decision on the initial environmental studies in 2002, confirming and approving the route for the SEHSR. The project is currently in the second environmental study phase that includes more specific analysis along the preferred route between Richmond, VA and Raleigh, NC. This Final Tier II EIS (environmental study) should be completed by early 2011, with the Record of Decision expected inmid 2011.

4. How much will it cost to build the SEHSR?
Reconstructing, upgrading, and constructing rail lines between Washington and Charlotte is estimated to cost between $2.6 and $7.5 billion. Construction costs for SEHSR segments in South Carolina and Georgia have not yet been determined.

5. How much time will it take to travel between major cities?
Proposed high speed rail trip times (approximate) include:

Note: actual times will depend on final routing, stops, actual dwell time at the listed end points, and equipment.

6. How much will a ticket cost?
Initial studies indicate tickets will cost about 20-22 cents a mile (based on calculated demand for the service). This compares to air travel at 22-75 cents a mile and auto travel at 35-55 cents a mile.

7. How soon will all this happen?
Implementing SEHSR will be a lengthy process. Detailed cost estimates, environmental clearances, construction permits, equipment selection and manufacture, ordering of materials, and actual construction and reconstruction of the rail lines and associated roadways must take place before high speed trains can operate in the Southeast. North Carolina and Virginia are working hard to secure federal funds that will be key to project implementation. If funding is made available, the project could be implemented between 2018 and 2022.

8. Is this a good use of taxpayer's money?
Yes. The US Department of Transportation, in reviewing the high speed rail plans for 23 states, concluded that the SEHSR will produce more revenue than any other proposed corridor. It was estimated to generate $2.54 in public benefits for each dollar spent to build and operate the corridor, and SEHSR was the only proposed corridor projected to cover its total operational costs from the fare box.

Photo of High Speed Train9. How fast will the high speed trains go through my town?
The rail line is being engineered for a maximum speed of 110 mph. However, there will be many areas where such speeds will not be possible, especially in congested areas, near station stops, etc. Built up areas will receive security fencing and landscaping as appropriate for public safety and to minimize the rail line's intrusion to the community. The average speed is anticipated to be 85-87 mph. Current passenger service in the corridor has a top speed of 79 mph, and an average speed of 46-48 mph.

10. Why won't the trains go faster, like in Europe?
Careful modeling of ridership and costs has indicated that 110 mph service is the most cost effective at this time. Sustaining operating speeds in the 125 to 135 mph range and above would require electrification of the corridor. The models show that higher speeds do not increase ridership sufficiently to justify the higher costs within our 25 year planning horizon. However, the system is being designed to allow for higher speeds in the future as conditions change.

11. Where will SEHSR trains stop?
Between the Charlotte to Raleigh, and the Richmond to Washington, DC portions, SEHSR trains will make essentially the same stops as today's Piedmont and Carolinian although not all trains will make all stops. The current environmental document will propose an additional stop between Petersburg and Raleigh on two of the four round-trip trains. No community with current Amtrak service is expected to lose such service.

12. If the SEHSR trains do not stop in my community, what benefit will there be to me?
The construction and operation of the SEHSR will have a positive impact on the economies of the regions and towns it passes through. In North Carolina alone, it has been estimated the SEHSR will bring:

  • $700 million in new state and local tax revenues
  • $10.5 billion in employee wages over 20 years
  • over 31,400 new one-year construction jobs
  • more than 800 permanent new railroad operating positions
  • nearly 19,000 permanent full-time jobs from businesses which choose to locate or expand in North Carolina because of the SEHSR.

It can be reasonably assumed that similarly positive benefits will accrue to Virginia, Georgia, and South Carolina from SEHSR's implementation.

Additional benefits include:

  • new and/or improved freight access, especially for those segments with no currently active freight service.
  • decrease in the rate of congestion growth on the major interstate highways which parallel the rail system, benefiting local travelers who use the interstates
  • opportunity for new or increased conventional passenger service and/or commuter service which could serve smaller communities.

13. So there will be continued freight service in the corridor as well?

The SEHSR is being designed as a passenger and freight corridor. Freight service already exists in most sections, and will be reinstituted in the currently discontinued section between Petersburg and Norlina in NC. The SEHSR is being designed to allow passenger trains and freights to operate on the same track, and with 5 mile-long passing sidings every 10 miles on average to allow the faster passenger trains and the slower freights to meet and pass with minimal conflict. The operating efficiency for both passenger and freight service will increase dramatically as a result of SEHSR corridor improvements.

14. I have heard there could be a possible trail or greenway along the corridor?
Yes. The SEHSR project now includes the evaluation of a parallel multipurpose trail concept, a unique opportunity to provide additional economic and quality-of-life value for most all the towns and communities along the corridor. The trail concept would be a separate project, parallel to and outside the rail right of way, but within the SEHSR study corridor. As such, all environmental work being collected and analyzed for the rail project would be available for evaluation of the trail concept. The environmental clearance of the trail would allow trail proponents in each state to apply for state and federal funds for the eventual completion of the trail.

Incorporation of the trail concept into the SEHSR project was requested and funded by the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation with VDOT and the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources. The trail concept would run from just south of Petersburg to the Neuse River, north of Raleigh. It likely would become part of the East Coast Greenway, a proposed trail traversing the east coast states from Maine to Florida.

15. Who is doing the planning work?
NCDOT Rail Division is managing the Environmental Impact Statement for the Richmond to Raleigh segment, overseeing a team of environmental and engineering consultants. It is a joint effort with the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (VA DRPT) and the Federal Railroad Administration.

For more information, contact:
Marc Hamel, NCDOT Rail Division, Rail Project Development Engineer, 919-733-7245 x270
Emily Stock, VA DRPT, Manager of Rail Planning, 804-786-1052

Revised February 2010