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Plans for commuter rail involving Durham have been officially in the planning stage since the mid-1990s, and have been discussed widely at least since the 1980s[1].

As of February 25, 2014, a plan for an initial single line between Durham and Chapel Hill was been approved for Federal funding, with additional funding coming from a local sales tax increase that was approved earlier by popular referendum -- but the federal funding somehow disappeared by October of 2015, when we were back to the stage of needing to get state funding before applying for federal[2].

2006 status

As of 2006, the initial rail line was ready to begin construction once funding is obtained, but the funding proposal to the FTA in 2005 was turned down. Proponents regrouped to work out the best strategy for another try

One theory[3] for why it was turned down is that the Triangle area doesn't fit into the classic hub-and-spokes model that the FTA is accustomed to evaluating; another theory is that the FTA's evaluation methods make the odd assumption that the rail line will not affect patterns of growth in the area, which leads to severely lowered estimates of eventual ridership.

The proposed plan involved an initial rail line apparently running from two stops in downtown Durham, skirting RTP, through Cary, to two stops in Raleigh. Extensions would be built later to run the line out to Duke and three further stops in Raleigh. A secondary line was also tentatively planned (but not part of the 2005 FTA funding request) running from Durham to Chapel Hill along or near 15-501.1

In the absence of approval from the FTA, at least one suggestion2 was floated to start with the Durham-to-Chapel-Hill line, since most of the push for commuter rail seems to be coming from those two areas; the argument is that this would be easier and cheaper in some ways than the original Durham-to-Raleigh plan, might actually provide more bang for the buck, and in any case will get the ball rolling again. (This later formed the basis of the idea that was later adopted.)




  1. 2005-08-31 Mystery train: "Ten questions for TTA – and at least some of the answers"
  2. 2015-10-14 Does the light-rail line have a math problem? (archive; discussion)
  3. 2006-01-04 Who Needs Raleigh? by Bob Geary