CHARLOTTE, N.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) — The City of Charlotte is among a group of interested parties that Norfolk Southern is considering selling a sought-after rail line to.
In a letter to Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles and City Manager Marcus Jones, Norfolk Southern said, “Norfolk Southern is willing to consider engaging with the City of Charlotte and other interested parties in the region regarding a possible transaction of the O Line.”
Norfolk Southern said it has not decided upon what form such a transaction might take, or whether it conducts an outright sale of the O Line or some variant of a lease.
The 2023 letter states, “This correspondence solely reflects our willingness to engage, and is not a binding commitment that Norfolk Southern, ultimately, would proceed to a transaction.”
Norfolk Southern said on Wednesday, “Though this line remains a strategic part of our network, we have always valued our relationship with Charlotte and the surrounding communities. Wherever we can, we will continue to work with them on projects that intersect with our network, the needs of our customers, and the interests of the region.”
Statement released from Congressman Jeff Jackson Wednesday:
“Opening up commuter rail to the north of Charlotte would be a massive win for the city, and the region. It would bring economic growth and improve the quality of life for thousands of people. I’m encouraged by the news and will continue to support expanding transportation options through my work in Congress.”
In September 2023, the Charlotte City Council approved a $5 million investment in the proposed northern commuter rail line.
The city has contracted with HDR Engineering for planning and design services related to the proposed LYNX Red Line. The line would connect uptown north to Mooresville but along a stretch of rail to which they don’t yet have access.
Huntersville Town Commissioner Rob Kidwell has concerns over the last draft of the commuter rail project, which is almost 10 years old. The town would have two stops based on the proposal, including one downtown.
“It took a huge part of our downtowns, they outlined it for us, another track, we lose most of our downtown through Huntersville, Cornelius, Davidson, Mooresville, so I’d like to see what they’re bringing to the table,” said Kidwell.
He says Charlotte and Mecklenburg County first tried to plan the project before involving Norfolk Southern.
“They forgot to ask the owner of the line,” Kidwell said. “It’s like going to someone’s house and throwing a party but not telling them you’re coming to their house and throwing a party. You gotta get permission, you gotta talk to people.”
According to the City of Charlotte and Charlotte Area Transit System, this phase will focus on public outreach, updating the grade crossings and track design, examining options for a new vehicle maintenance facility, reevaluating vehicle technologies and service levels, confirming station locations and analyzing new alignment options into Uptown.
Now that Norfolk Southern seems willing to talk, he hopes the lines of communication are extended northbound from Charlotte.
Queen City News checked with the City of Charlotte asking if they alerted the towns in northern Mecklenburg County to the recent developments, and a spokesperson says they did notify the towns.
Kidwell hopes Norfolk Southern will come to the regional transportation meetings of the Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization and talk with all parties together about its plans.
There have been several changes in the corridor since the original design was completed in 2009. Since Norfolk Southern has taken so long to budge on allowing CATS to use its O Line right of way, Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) has since been presented as a medium-term alternative for the corridor.
The BRT route would utilize the Interstate 77 Express Lanes, with stops just off exits in north Charlotte and in the Lake Norman towns.
Future requests for City Council approval of contract amendments to complete the design of the Red Line project are anticipated.