Depot project still on track

Jun. 03, 2013 @ 06:10 PM

 “All aboard for the Pork Barbecue Capital of the World.”
That’s a railway call Lexington leaders have wanted passengers to hear for years. But Lexington, which has a lot to offer tourists, has no depot and no Amtrak service. For County Commissioner Billy Joe Kepley, there is no better reason for rail service than to provide a tourism link. Lexington also lost regional bus service several years ago. The city’s train depot, which stood at S. Railroad Street between First and Second avenues, was torn down in 1975. Regular rail service ended in 1976.
“People come here for barbecue from all over the state,” Kepley, who has worked to plan rail service, said during a Board of Commissioners meeting. “Some of those who come to the festival tell me they would come several times a year for barbecue if we had regular rail service.”
Other area attractions include Bob Timberlake and his creations, the vineyards, and even the GroundHawg’s Day celebration.
The Amtrak stop could also benefit some commuters. An estimated 44 percent of Davidson County workers drive to other counties.
“They go as far as Charlotte and the Hendrick Motorsports business runs a bus to this area,” Kepley said.
County commissioners boosted efforts this month to keep restoration efforts on track by supporting Lexington City Council’s upcoming application for a Tiger V grant for development of the depot district.  The letter to Ray LaHood, U.S. transportation secretary, seeks support for a multi-modal center for rail, bus, bicycle and pedestrian use. Raleigh and several other cities also are seeking grant funding.
A center could also help “improve the county’s air quality,” according to the letter, by taking motorists off the highways.
A rail advisory committee has been working on restoring service since 2004.  The goal is to restore service by 2015. The district project could cost as much as $25 million with local governments providing 20 percent. The Depot District is bordered by  East Center Street to Seventh Avenue and from Railroad Street to Main Street. It covers about 65 acres of land adjacent to the uptown area.
Earlier this year, Lexington City Council approved a site location for a multi-modal center off South Railroad Street between East Third and Fourth avenues as well as a building of up to 8,000 square feet.

The Depot

Stop: Amtrak and the N.C. Department of Transportation’s Rail Division have approved a passenger rail stop for Lexington, which will be part of a high-speed rail system that is planned to run from Raleigh to Charlotte.

Funds: In 2010, Lexington was awarded a federal planning grant of $700,000 for a multi-modal transportation center near the site of the former Lexington Home Brands Plant No. 1.

Construction: No funding approved for what could be a $25 million depot district.  The cost of a multi-modal station alone has been estimated at $5.5 million.