Commuter Rail

Commuter rail (also known as heavy rail) is a truly regional mode of transit, covering longer distances and travelling at higher speeds than light rail or streetcar. The Red Line service between Uptown Charlotte and Mooresville, planned as the only commuter rail component of the 2030 Transit Corridor System Plan,  would consist of 20-30 minute headways during the morning and afternoon rush hour period and hourly service during the remainder of the day.  The new service is projected to have some 5,000 commuters ride the trains daily to or from Charlotte by 2030.  The vast majority of these commuters currently travel by single-occupancy vehicle along I-77 and/or NC 115 (Old Statesville Road) or US 21 (Statesville Road).

Commuter Rail Updates

  • The Red Line Task Force (RLTF) is a standing committee established by the Metropolitan Transit Commission in June 2010 to focus on finding alternative means to finance and advance the Red Line rail project.
  • Norfolk Southern’s new passenger rail policy preserves the entire O-Line corridor for freight operations and would require tracks for the Red Line to be constructed adjacent to the existing O-Line tracks.
  • The impact of constructing another rail track for the Red Line would represent a major change in scope and magnitude for the project and to the adjacent communities along the corridor.  The Red Line White Paper Final Report outlines the different scenarios under this new policy.
  • Before the Red Line project can move forward on the originally planned alignment, Norfolk Southern has stated that they need permanence on the North Carolina Railroad track on which they currently run freight. Norfolk Southern also has not agreed to project scope for the Red Line.


Rendering of a Red Line commuter rail vehicle (credit: CATS)

Commuter Rail Facts

  • Although commuter rail can operate at higher speeds than light rail, it usually can’t accommodate the sharp curves and steep grades that light rail can.
  • Commuter rail can share track with freight trains. Light rail uses smaller and lighter weight vehicles than commuter rail.
  • Commuter trains are usually powered by diesel-electric or electric locomotives or use self-propelled cars.
  • The frequency of commuter rail service is typically much less than for light rail. Unfortunately, this often disqualifies commuter rail projects from being eligible for federal funding due to lower than required ridership. However, the Red Line would be a candidate for P3 design-build funding.
  • The cost of starting commuter rail service is generally far lower than light rail or streetcar because of the minimal amount of construction required and because it is usually not necessary to electrify the line.

Commuter Rail Resources