On Wednesday, September 28, the MTC (Metropolitan Transit Commission) decided to move forward to redesign and eventually build the Red Line. Through a vote, the MTC gave CATS (Charlotte Area Transit System) $5 Million to redesign the project. The funds will be used for: community engagement, continued communication with Norfolk Southern on using the O-Corridor and to update the alignment into Gateway Station in Uptown Charlotte. Some other highlights from the meeting include exploration of electrification and the use of modern rolling stock for the corridor.
The last design was created in the mid 2000s. In the original plan, the Red Line would work as a traditional commuter line with inbound service in the morning and outbound service in the late afternoon. It would extend 25 miles along the NS O-corridor with 10 stations. Major stops include the towns of Huntersville, Cornelius, Davidson and Mooresville. Sketches show the use of diesel locomotives pulling Bombodier by-level cars similar to that of Tri-Rail, Sunrail and Sounder Commuter Rail.
Although still part of CATS 2030 plan, the Red Line was put on hold due to a change in policy by Norfolk Southern in 2013, which prevented new commuter services on their tracks. Since then, many alternatives have been proposed, such as a BRT route going up I 77 and a new light rail line.
The redesign comes after almost 20 years of stagnation. Since then the area along the corridor has seen significant development and population growth. As mentioned by many members in the meeting, there have been improvements in rolling stock and the needs of the community that will be using the service. Like many transit systems, CATS is moving away from an exclusively commuter service to a more traditional regional rail model, with bidirectional, all day service. According to CATS the plan is to have the Red Line rolling by 2030. Until then a BRT program has been put in place.
The updates will be critical to gaining federal funding which will be needed. Estimates have the project costing $674 million, with most of the cost coming from track improvement and the purchase of rolling stock. In order to obtain federal funds CATS will have to show, with the new design, that the Red Line will satisfy the needs of the community and have a large enough ridership to justify the expense.
Our hope is to see the Southeast's next regional rail service within the next decade. With that being said there are still some major hurdles to cross before the Red Line becomes more than just a plan. Hopefully CATS and the MTC will be able to overcome them, but only time will tell.