- Associated Press - Friday, September 18, 2015

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Federal officials and North Carolina and Virginia representatives have approved a final environmental study on plans for a shorter rail line known as the Southeast Corridor, linking Raleigh and Richmond.

The documents signed Thursday are part of the effort to allow faster trains from Atlanta to the District of Columbia, The News & Observer of Raleigh (https://bit.ly/1Qmck5Y) reported.

“Without a strong passenger rail system, the Southeast’s growth will be choked by congestion for a very long time,” U.S. Transportation Secretary and former Charlotte mayor Anthony Foxx said in a news release.

North Carolina’s Department of Transportation has approved a route allowing trains to run as fast as 110 mph between the state capitals. The proposed rout trims 35 miles from the current Amtrak path. It would reduce the travel time from North Carolina to Washington by 75 minutes.

The plan calls for eliminating every level-grade rail crossing along the line - closing some and building dozens of bridges to carry automobiles over or under the tracks.

DOT officials estimate they will need $4 billion to buy the land, lay tracks and build roads, bridges and stations along the route. Full funding for the effort has not been secured.

The environmental impact statement, a key project milestone, lays out the detailed route from downtown Raleigh and Petersburg, Virginia, where it would join the current Amtrak route to Richmond. After the next step called a record of decision, expected by the end of 2015, NCDOT will have authority to begin working on the rail line.

“This is a significant step toward making high performing rail in the Southeast Corridor a reality,” North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory said in a news release. “Rail is a critical component of our 25-Year Transportation Vision that will improve connectivity throughout the state and strengthen our economy.”

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Information from: The News & Observer, https://www.newsobserver.com

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