Commentary: Rail money could enhance region

The announcement last week that North Carolina has received $545 million in federal money to apply toward rail passenger service was welcome news for an effort that has been in the works for two decades. It has been an endeavor only for the patient, with many delays and missed goals along the way.

And while it would have been even more welcome to hear that the state got a larger chunk of the $5.3 billion it requested, such is the way of federal grant-making. Of an $8 billion pool of money for high-speed rail projects in last year's stimulus package, $2.3 billion went to California, $1.25 billion went to Florida and $1.4 billion went to Illinois and Missouri.

It was in 1990, during Gov. Jim Martin's tenure (1985-93), that passenger rail service was restored between Charlotte and Raleigh. In 1992 the Charlotte-Raleigh-Washington corridor was officially included in a federal program designating routes that eventually could offer "high-speed" trains. In 1995, the Piedmont began running between the two cities.

The state has steadfastly put money into its passenger service since then and worked to improve travel time between the capital city and the state's largest city, even though those improvements tend to be measured in only a few minutes here, and a few there. A Charlotte-Raleigh trip that once was four hours or more is now down to 3 to 31/2 hours. (Unfortunately, former Gov. Jim Hunt's goal to cut the trip to under two hours before he left office in 2001 has yet to be achieved.)

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