Charlotte LYNX Blue Line Extension Light Rail Project reaches major milestone

Charlotte LYNX Blue Line Extension Light Rail Project reaches major milestone

The North Carolina Railroad Company (NCRR), the Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS), and Norfolk Southern Corporation have signed lease, construction, and operating agreements for the LYNX Blue Line Extension (BLE) light rail project along the North Carolina Railroad corridor.  The 2.7-mile span begins near East 12th Street and ends a half mile east of Eastway Drive.

“The North Carolina Railroad Company is pleased to partner with the Charlotte Area Transit System to improve mobility in this growing region,” said NCRR President Scott Saylor. “This is an unprecedented agreement that extends light rail in our state’s largest city, and we are fortunate to have enough right of way within our corridor to enable CATS to install light rail tracks.”

The 50-year lease agreement is renewable for an additional 50 years.  The lease agreement outlines the operating and construction parameters along the 2.7-mile segment such as fair rental value of the property, construction plan review, lease negotiation and other expenses, and an adjustment for anticipated future appreciation of the leased property.

“This signed agreement represents a significant investment in the future of public transit in Charlotte,” said Carolyn Flowers, CATS CEO.  “CATS can now complete the Final Design for the BLE and move closer to securing a full funding grant agreement from the Federal Transit Administration later this year.”

The LYNX Blue Line Extension (BLE) is a 9.4 mile extension of the existing light rail line that will serve the Northeast Corridor from Center City to UNC Charlotte.  Light rail service will operate in nearly three miles of NCRR’s corridor when it opens in 2017.

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As part of the agreement, CATS will make improved safety enhancements at 36th Street for freight and future passenger rail service by building a bridge over the railroad tier for pedestrians and vehicles.

Additional operational and construction agreements with Norfolk Southern allow CATS to construct, operate and maintain the Blue Line Extension through North Charlotte.

“Norfolk Southern has worked on other projects with the City, and we are happy to continue this high degree of cooperation with CATS under the capable direction of Carolyn Flowers,” said Norfolk Southern CEO Wick Moorman. “Our team has worked closely with CATS on the Blue Line Extension and we are hopeful that CATS will be successful in their application for Federal Transit Administration funding.”

“Along with freight rail, we see expanding passenger rail and commuter rail options essential for addressing growth in our state,” said John Atkins, Chairman of the N.C. Railroad Company Board of Directors. “In terms of reliability, efficiency and cost, rail will continue to play a vital role in moving people and goods in North Carolina.”

CATS and NCRR will not share tracks, but will share the NCRR corridor. Saylor is pleased with the design of a light rail system that is compatible with current corridor use, and future expansion.

“CATS’ state of the art design avoids conflict between systems, and creates compatibility,” Saylor said. “It takes an enormous amount of work on the part of everyone involved, including Norfolk Southern, to develop a plan that allows for future freight growth in the NCRR corridor.”

In addition CATS also has an option with Norfolk Southern for acquisition of the current intermodal rail yard along Brevard Street north of Uptown Charlotte when Norfolk Southern moves its intermodal operations to a new facility now under construction at Charlotte Douglas International Airport.  This land agreement allows CATS to accommodate two BLE transit stations, 25th Street Station and Parkwood Station, and part of the planned rail alignment.