I Should Have Stuck with my Childhood Career Choice

Ask anyone in my family and they’ll tell you exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up from ages like 0-11. I wanted to drive a train. Don’t believe me? Well, let’s see. I had train-themed birthdays, my family planned vacations around railway museums and depots, I constantly played with wooden train sets, and, oh yeah, I even went to train camp for like three summers when I was in elementary school. Yes, it was a train-themed summer camp. I can sense your jealousy from here.

Ok well, you’re probably wondering why on earth I’m bringing up train camp and regretting being in college right now getting a good education. Simple ­– early studies indicate a Triangle commuter rail line is a potentially viable project.

Go Triangle, the regional transit authority, finished a study in May of 2019 which found, among several things:

  • Taking a train from Garner to Durham would be both faster and more reliable than driving or taking the bus.
  • Commuter rail ridership in the Triangle would be consistent with peer systems around the nation.

A second study analyzed the vitality of commuter rail in the corridor identified by Go Triangle by looking at existing infrastructure and developed early ridership and cost estimates. The project is currently projected to cost anywhere from $1.4 to $3.2 Billion and have a ridership of 7,500 to 11,500 passengers a day. So in layman’s terms, no one has any idea of what the numbers look like at this point. Go Triangle just knows, at this point, this is the best path to get federal funding for a major rail project in the area.

Now here’s where I break out all the caveats. These projects take decades, I would even say lifetimes, to get off the ground and built. Thanks to one master’s level public planning class (surprisingly one of the best electives I’ve taken at UNC) I’ve seen just a sample of the countless numbers of hoops and mountains of red tape facing public infrastructure projects. Basically, I know this means the commuter rail is still closer to a fever dream than actual reality.

Then there’s Go Triangle’s unfortunate history with rail projects. Yes, I’m talking about the heartbreaking failure of the Durham-Orange Light Rail project killed last year by a coalition of the NC Railroad and Duke University. I even reported for the Daily Tar Heel back in 2017 about local funding issues regarding the project and it’s local supporters and opponents. The Durham-Orange Light Rail had a nearly decade-long history and $130 million price tag before being tossed into the wastebasket. So, the Triangle doesn’t have much going for it in the rail department.

But for some reason I’m optimistic. The Triangle is a dynamic and growing region and our nation is shifting faster and faster to a more urbanized and concentrated state. It’s only a matter of time before large-scale transit developments like the one being dreamt of by Go Triangle become reality. While I’ll know I probably never fulfill my childhood dream of riding the rails fulltime, maybe in a decade or two there’ll be passenger trains rattling around the Triangle again and some five-year-old will grow up to drive those trains.