The Red Line is the Dead Line

Lynx Red Line Rail System. Credit:

By Dave Vieser.  For well over a decade, transportation and planning officials have been hoping that a commuter rail line to North Mecklenburg and southern Iredell would become a reality. Mixed-use developments such as Antiquity in Cornelius and Bryton Town Center in Huntersville were built with the expectation that commuter rail would eventually whisk workers to and from Charlotte.

However, Norfolk Southern Rail Road, which owns the right of way, has made it clear it wanted no part of sharing their route with passenger rail and has refused to negotiate. 


It appears that planners from CATS, the Charlotte Area Transportation System, have finally accepted the inevitable: For the indeterminate future, the Red Line is dead. 

“Norfolk Southern has refused to consider passenger service on its rails along the 30-mile corridor. Until this changes, delivering commuter rail in the north corridor will be difficult to do,” said CATS planner Jason Lawrence. “There’s no current path forward.”

Instead of pursuing the rail line CATS will focus their resources on providing additional express buses on the new I 77 toll lanes, and eventually expanding their service into a bus rapid transit (BRT) network.

Local officials had a wide range of reactions.

“I’m disappointed but not surprised” said Huntersville Mayor John Aneralla. “Disappointed that CATS went ahead and


spent thousands of dollars on a rail study with a pre-determined outcome…a study which several of the towns up our way had opposed. That money could have been used for bus system amenities such as better bus stops and shelters.”

CATS spent $3.2 million on a LYNX Red Line/North Corridor Study to analyze alternative commuter rail routes. There weren’t any reasonable options, an outcome Aneralla predicted.

Davidson Mayor Rusty Knox also said it was time for CATS to accept the obvious.  “We want the convenience of rail, but in order to achieve this, we would have to double track from Mooresville to Charlotte. This scenario would displace many residents and businesses. We have a defined corridor that bisects our three northern communities. Why not use that corridor for true Bus Rapid Transit. The costs are probably a tenth of rail and could be achieved in the established corridor.” 


Cornelius officials also support bus rapid transit. “It would provide a mass transit option at a fraction of the cost of commuter rail,” said Commissioner Kurt Naas. “This is a sensible use of transit tax dollars. However, claiming BRT is a benefit of the private toll lanes is a mistake because BRT can be accomplished with an HOV lane. We don’t need—and still do not want—50 years of private toll lanes.”

Meanwhile if CATS is considering the possibility of asking for more money from local residents via an increase in the transit tax, that’s a long shot according to former Mecklenburg Commissioner Jim Puckett.

The citizens of North Mecklenburg have been paying a half-cent transit tax for over a decade. 


Puckett said it “will never come and now we get to pay up to a $25 toll to build a road for the ‘opportunity’ to pay for future rapid bus transit fares.”

“Speaking for me – and I suspect over 100,000 others – don’t come looking for more,” Puckett said.

Davidson’s Knox feels there still may be an opportunity for the acquisition of Norfolk Southern Line. “I would like to see Mecklenburg, Iredell, Mooresville, Davidson, Cornelius and Huntersville acquire this corridor from Norfolk Southern, a corridor that is basically abandoned at this time, figure out what the widget is that helps Norfolk Southern and the N.C. Railway work together and solve one of the most challenging issues we face.”


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