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Southeast High Speed Rail: Tier 1 EIS Preliminary Study AreasProject History

SEHSR Legislative Chronology

With tremendous economic and population growth, the Southeast needs a comprehensive, multi-modal transportation system. High-speed rail service will provide business and leisure travelers with a competitive alternative to air and auto for trips between 100-500 miles.

High speed rail in the southeast will mean top speeds of 110 mph and average speeds between 85-87 mph. Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama and Tennessee have joined together with the business communities in each state to form a SEHSR Coalition to plan, develop and implement high speed rail in the Southeast. The system will be developed incrementally, upgrading existing rail rights-of-way.

Tiered Environmental Process
Developing the Southeast High-Speed Rail Corridor will take several years. All transportation projects that use public funds must examine potential environmental impacts and involve the public in the decision-making process.

North Carolina, Virginia and the FHWA and FRA completed the vital first part of a two-part environmental study for the Washington, DC to Charlotte portion of the Southeast High Speed Rail Corridor (SEHSR) in October 2002.

The first study phase - referred to as the Tier I Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) - examined the need for the project and looked at potential impacts on both natural and man made environments along nine possible routes. Public involvement was critical during this phase with 26 public information workshops and 18 public hearings held in North Carolina and Virginia to solicit feedback about the project. Throughout the Tier I EIS process, meetings with the public, political leaders, planners, resource agencies, railroads and other interested parties were held to obtain input on the project.

The Tier I EIS identified the preferred corridor and the overall project purpose and need.

Purpose and Need - Key Issues

-Provide transportation options

-Ease the rate of congestion growth in the corridor

-Improve safety and energy effectiveness

-Improve air quality

-Improve transportation efficiency while minimizing impacts

The Tier I Final Environmental Impact Statement, which outlines why the recommended alternative was selected, was completed in June 2002, and a formal Record of Decision was issued in October 2002. This federal document confirms the preferred corridor recommended by the Tier I EIS. Virginia and North Carolina are now proceeding with the next phase, Tier II, which provides a detailed analysis on the impacts, including track location, station arrangement and detailed design. Rather than a single large document, Tier II environmental studies will be conducted for specific segments of the route where track work will be needed.

The Washington, DC to Charlotte portion of the SEHSR corridor could be implemented betweem 2018 and 2022 depending on funding availability. In the meantime, other projects will reduce travel time within the next few years. Implementation of the remainder of the SEHSR into South Carolina, Georgia and Florida will follow by several years.


The Southeast Corridor from Washington, D.C. to Richmond, Raleigh and Charlotte is among the five corridors designated for high speed rail by the US Department of Transportation.

1994 Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia joined together to form a four-state coalition to facilitate the development of the Southeast High-Speed Rail Corridor (SEHSR).
1995 The USDOT extended SEHSR to include a connection to Hampton Roads, VA.
1997 A USDOT report on high speed rail identified the Southeast corridor as the most economically viable proposed high speed rail corridor in the country.
1998 The Virginia Department of Rail & Public Transportation (VDRPT), the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT), the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) signed a Memorandum of Understanding to jointly develop environmental documentation for the SEHSR in VA and NC.

The SEHSR was extended south to Macon, GA, and south from Raleigh through to Jacksonville, FL.


North Carolina and Virginia began a Tier I Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the SEHSR from Washington, DC to Charlotte, NC (almost 500 miles). This corridor level document examined nine alternatives.

2000 The NCDOT and VDRPT conducted public workshops as part of the Tier I Environmental Study process.
2001 North Carolina and Virginia, along with the FHWA and FRA, completed the Draft Tier 1 EIS.
2002 The final Tier I EIS, which identified a preferred corridor, was completed in June. The FHWA and FRA issued a Record of Decision in October, approving the project and allowing the second round of environmental studies to begin.
2003 The Tier II EIS began for the segment from Petersburg, VA to Raleigh, NC. The document looks in detail at specific designs and their potential impacts within this segment.

Nine meetings (called Public Information Workshops) were held between June and August, and 636 citizens attended. As part of the current (Tier II) EIS process, citizens had the opportunity to pose questions and comments, as well as gather information. Input from these citizens is being incorporated into the planning.

2004 (Note: The Federal Railroad Administration released the Transportation Planning Report for the Richmond-Charlotte Corridor.This independent engineering study examines specific infrastructure improvements needed to implement high-speed rail between Richmond and Charlotte to achieve a travel time goal of 4 hours and 25 minutes. The FRA report supports and complements the findings of the Tier I EIS for the Southeast High Speed Rail Corridor between Washington, D.C. and Charlotte. It also provides technical assistance that will be used in developing the Tier II documents for the corridor.)
2007 The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation approved the grant agreement to allow extension of project study area to include Richmond Main Street Station (previous study limits stopped south of Petersburg.) The study area is now approximately 168 miles long from Richmond, VA to Raleigh, NC.

Preliminary rail/roadway designs and detailed environmental analysis have been completed in North Carolina and Virginia.


The Draft Tier II EIS, Richmond to Raleigh, is complete and FRA signed it in May 2010. Public hearings were held in July 2010. The Draft Tier I EIS was signed for service to Hampton Roads in February 2010.


The Final Tier II EIS is expected to be completed by the end of 2012. The Record of Decision is expected in the Fall of 2013. Right-of-way and permit acquisition can then begin.

2018-2022 This is the goal for passenger service to begin over the preferred alternative as identified by the SEHSR Tier I EIS, Washington DC to Charlotte, NC, dependent upon funding availability.

Last updated April 2010.