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Rail Realignment

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At the July 17, 2018 council meeting, former councilmember and rail realignment project coordinator Laura Padgett presented an update to the Wilmington City Council on the project.

According to city planning officials, moving the rail line would have several benefits, including: improving access by freight trains directly into the Port of Wilmington, enhancing economic development in the region, easing traffic congestion on area streets, and, by repurposing the existing rail for a greenway and possible trolley line, incentivize major new investments in underutilized properties adjoining the rail.

Task Force Updates


In August 2015, the Wilmington City Council heard a presentation about potential advantages for economic development and community growth if the CSX rail line that currently runs through the city were to be relocated just across the Cape Fear River.

Glenn Harbeck, the city’s Director of Planning, Development and Transportation, gave the presentation and pointed out that the region will grow significantly over the next 25 years:

  • New Hanover County estimated to have 130,000 more people;
  • Wilmington estimated to have more than 50,000 more people;
  • Brunswick County estimated to have more than 125,000 more people.

According to Harbeck, moving the rail line would ease traffic congestion and make it easier to move around the city without as many cars, while also accommodating expected growth and truck traffic at the Port of Wilmington.

Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo appointed a task force made up of key stakeholders to help guide the effort during its early stages. Former City of Wilmington Councilmember Laura Padgett was selected to chair the Mayor's Task Force on Rail Realignment. In January, 2016, Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo announced the appointment of Leland Mayor Pro-Tem Pat Batleman to the task force. She will serve on the task force to represent the Transportation Advisory Committee/Metropolitan Planning Organization, a partner in the funding for the feasibility study and the potential development of the project. 

The rail line is owned by CSX Railroad. No changes are expected at this time, but the Wilmington City Council approved a feasibility study to get more specific and detailed information before formalizing any potential proposal. The feasibility study addresses impacts of the project, including safety issues along the current rail line, economic benefits of realigning the track across the river more directly to the Port of Wilmington, financing and environmental effects.

According to Padgett, the project is “an important partnership with the city, the Wilmington Urban Area MPO’s Transportation Advisory Committee and the NC Department of Transportation’s Rail Division, who are sharing the cost of the feasibility study.”

“The Task Force itself represents collaboration among local governments on both sides of the river, the NC DOT, and private companies and I am thankful for everyone’s help and participation on this project,” Padgett added.

In April, 2016, Padgett announced that the task force agreed to recommend to the City the firm of Moffatt & Nichol to study the feasibility of the rail realignment project. According to Ms. Padgett, the City received three good proposals, including one from AECOM and VHB, and that the process had been challenging to pick the firm with whom to begin the study. “We were lucky to have proposals from large national firms with great resources to bring to the project,” she said. “We are hoping to move the process quickly, getting the agreement in place between the City and Moffatt & Nichol.”

The cost of the study was shared by a partnership between the City of Wilmington, the NC DOT and the Wilmington Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization.

On June 6, 2017, Padgett presented the findings of the feasibility study. The Wilmington City Council officially accepted the study at their meeting on July 18, 2017.

At their Jan. 9, 2018 meeting, the Wilmington City Council appointed Padgett as coordinator of the Rail Realignment Project. The action reinforces the City’s commitment to continue leading the initiative forward. Padgett had previously served as chair of the Rail Realignment Task Force.

More information

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