Volume 16, Number 2
By Marty Ludas
Wake Forest, like the citizens of Lakewood, Washington, we are being railroaded. Plans are in place to run high speed train service from Raleigh to Richmond. The stated purpose for the new route in the Town of Wake Forest Transportation Plan Update 2010 is to “provide business and leisure travelers a competitive alternative to air and auto for trips between 100 and 500 miles.”
To accomplish this determined transportation need, Wake Forest must agree to and accept permanent and radical changes to the downtown district, surrounding residences and intersecting streets in the new rail’s path.
Wake Forest, once an actual train stop, will not have access to the new train service. The station closest to Wake Forest will be downtown Raleigh. Many Raleigh residents also oppose the plan. During this planned, high speed ground voyage from Raleigh to Richmond, Wake Forest passengers will have mere seconds to view the detrimental changes to the town’s original historic footprint and surrounding areas. But those of us who live, work, recreate and walk near the tracks, we are going to be forced to be wary and persevere with extremely unfortunate and predictable changes required by this plan.
The sentiment and momentum are clear, the government perceives that a new railway transportation mandate exists, and they have the money to fund it. For them to succeed, we must comply by sacrificing our lifestyle and surrendering property, safety and the continuity of our historic town. Everyone knows where the rail tracks are, right through the middle of town. The mandate is based on an unprovable premise that miraculously, if high speed rail is available and travel time from Raleigh to Richmond is decreased, travelers in great numbers will park their cars and take the train.
The entire downtown district, homes and avenues adjacent to and near the train’s path that were once elemental to Wake Forest will be negatively influenced to presumably isolate and protect us from the speeding trains coming our way. Remember, towns like Wake Forest were purposely built next to and around the tracks that still exist today. Consider also, how do you really keep someone safe from a speeding train in an area that was originally designed to provide pedestrian access to the tracks?
We all must learn from the high speed rail tragedy on December 18 in the state of Washington. We can do this by familiarizing ourselves with the plight of the Lakewood, Washington residents and especially the mayor, Don Anderson. Though they live on the opposite side of the country, we have much in common. We too, unfortunately, reside in the path of and could be run over by a government-stimulus funded high speed rail system to lure thousands of passengers that do not exist. Lakewood failed in their attempt to stop what they recognized to be an obvious mistake. They rightfully demonstrated against a 180 million dollar project they recognized was unnecessary, unjustified, harmful and dangerous. They were wrong about their first disaster, though. They did not predict the engineer would exceed the speed limit by 50 miles an hour in a curve near an underpass. Their anticipated worry still exists, and will not be eliminated after the tragedy. Rightfully, Lakewood residents fear the train’s speed will eventually collide with the everyday innocent life that surrounds the rails. That’s what worries me, too. (At this moment, I hear the Wake Forest 3 p.m. train approach.)
We cannot allow ourselves to be railroaded and our town victimized by a rail plan that is justified by the perceived need for an airplane or automobile travel alternative from Raleigh to Richmond. Plans such as this take years and even decades to complete. We must be vigilant, as it is a creeping, incremental process and we may not be aware of the consequences of years of reviews and approvals until it too late.
Someone, please use some simple arithmetic to determine how many travelers must use the proposed Raleigh to Richmond route so that it loses, say only 10 million dollars, its first year. Where are these travelers that want to park their car and take the train to Richmond? Also in a first-year cost analysis, we must write off the quality of life, safety and property losses. These write offs will continue until everyone forgets how Wake Forest used to be.
No matter what the railroaders plan, who they convince, buy out, force out, endanger, diminish, and disrupt, one fact will remain: The high speed Raleigh to Richmond route barreling through Wake Forest will consist of powerful and expensive, modern engines and passenger cars that skim along the tops of aging, legacy train rails originally designed to service and connect towns, not speed by them. This inexpensive approach to modernizing train travel by offering speed and fast travel times on old, curving rail paths that intersect with real people’s lives, homes and places of work and recreation completely collides with my common sense and life experiences. Will you park your car and comfortably enjoy a train ride that exceeds 100 miles per hour on tracks that you know exist from here to Richmond? Some of you may have a vision of a Lionel train puttering around the Christmas tree. That’s all you need to consider to recognize how completely flawed this Raleigh to Richmond high speed rail scheme is.