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.

Latest Update

June 13, 2019

The U.S. Department of Transportation has announced that the city has received a $2 million grant for its Rail Realignment Project. The city’s grant is one of 45 projects across the US selected by the USDOT’s Federal Railroad Administration. The grant will fund completion of preliminary engineering and federal environmental review for the long-term proposal to move freight rail from the city’s urban core to a new rail bypass and bridge across the Cape Fear River to eliminate 32 railroad crossings.
Last year, the Wilmington City Council approved application of the grant, which requires a $500,000 local/state match.



The Rail Realignment Project proposes to relocate 8.5 miles railroad track and repurpose the track for alternative transportation such as a trolley or biking/pedestrian paths. The existing tracks would be moved to a new 4- to 5-mile track directly from the Port of Wilmington, across the Cape Fear River to a connection with the Davis/Navassa, NC Rail Yard.

The current track within the city includes 32 roadway crossings and carries trains at 4–8 miles an hour. Current projections show 8 round-trip, 10,000-foot trains a week by 2025. Removing the freight train use would address the continuing increase of truck and train delays on city streets, potential blocking of access to regional medical facilities, the hauling of toxic chemicals through dense neighborhoods, and deteriorating air quality from stalled traffic at crossings. The new track would also improve access and timing to and from the Port and open access to developable properties for new businesses in southeastern North Carolina.


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. 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.   

In April, 2016, the Wilmington City Council approved a feasibility study conducted by Moffat & Nichol 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. 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.

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