Durham and Orange Counties’ Light Rail Project

The Triangle is one of the fastest growing regions in the county. Growth brings prosperity and new employment opportunities, but also adds congestion to our roadways. By providing a congestion free alternative, light rail will help manage future growth while creating vibrant, walkable communities and connecting residents to jobs, education, and healthcare.

The D-O LRT Project is a 17.7-mile project that will provide over 26,000 trips per day to residents and commuters in Durham and Chapel Hill. The rail project will connect three major universities, three major medical facilities, and three of the top ten employers in the state (Duke University, UNC- Chapel Hill and UNC Health Care).

The light rail will provide:

  • 10-minute frequency during peak times, 20-minute frequency during off-peak times
  • Public transportation in a dedicated guideway, separate from traffic
  • 18 stations, nine park-and-ride locations and connections to other transit services
  • Relief to several bus routes that currently serve portions of the corridor, allowing them to be rerouted to serve other areas of the community

As part of a strong transit plan, the light rail project will connect to current and future transit services, including GoTriangle’s current bus systems, the Commuter Rail project and the Bus Rapid Transit project in Chapel Hill.

Durham and Orange Counties’ light rail project received approval from the Federal Transit Administration to advance into the Engineering phase of the federal Capital Investment Grant Program, on July 28, 2017.

The Rail Operations and Maintenance Facility (ROMF) is an integral part of the light rail project. It will accommodate GoTriangle staff, such as train operators and mechanics, who will work from the facility which will house offices, conference rooms, and space to store, service, and maintain up to 26 light rail vehicles.

In 2015, after hearing concerns about the proposed Rail Operations and Maintenance Facility (ROMF) GoTriangle hosted a community workshop to work with residents on potential design features of the facility.

Combined Environmental Impact Statement/Record of Decision

GoTriangle also organized a trip to the Charlotte Lynx Vehicle Maintenance Facility (VMF) to allow residents and elected officials to tour the Charlotte facility and ask questions of the Charlotte Lynx staff.

Charlotte Facility Tour Packet
[25 Pages | 4.38 MB | PDF]

D-O LRT Project Fly-Through Video

Key Documents

Amended Record of Decision

Draft Environmental Impact Statement

Final Environmental Impact Statement

D-O LRT Project Fast Facts
[2 Pages | PDF| 3.2 MB]

Full Station Plans
[38 Pages | PDF | 7.2 MB]

Browse the project’s full library and archives here.

What is light rail?

Light Rail is a transit technology that is lighter than other traditional passenger rail systems like subways or commuter rail.

Light rail operates in dedicated tracks with electrical power supplied from an overhead catenary system. The light rail vehicles are designed to operate in mixed traffic or in an exclusive right‐of‐way, either at grade or on an elevated structure.

Light rail has been used in several regions including: Seattle/Tacoma, Minneapolis/Saint Paul, Charlotte, Norfolk, Denver and Portland.

What is the Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit Project?

The Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit (D-O LRT) Project, a 17.7 mile project that will serve Durham & Orange Counties connecting residents to employment, health care and educational opportunities along some of the region’s most congested corridors.

Why do we need the Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit Project?

For our community to continue grow and still maintain a high quality of life, the Triangle needs a high-quality interconnected transportation system. Years of transportation studies, identified the corridor between Durham and Chapel Hill as one of the highest priority corridors for transit investment.

Even under current demands the roadway network and transit systems between the Durham and Chapel Hill are beginning to strain. Congestion continues to increase and as more people move to our area all residents and visitors will experience increased travel times and spread out development compromising our open space and rural areas.

This project will connect residents to many of our areas top employers, provide access to high-quality medical care and educational opportunities, and help our local governments prepare for growth by fostering compact development along a high capacity transportation network.

How much will the project cost?

The project will cost $2.476 billion dollars, including inflation and other costs, and about $29 million a year to operate.

  • 50 percent of the funding is expected to come from the Federal Transit Administration through the New Starts Capital Investment Grant program.
  • 42.3 percent is expected to come from local resources dedicated to fund transit in our area, including: a voter approved half-cent sales tax, vehicle registration fees, and right-of-way and other private donations.
  • 7.7 percent can come from the state through North Carolina’s Department of Transportation’s Strategic Transportation Investment program, up to $190 million.

The annual operating and maintenance costs would be funded from a combination of local tax-district revenue funds and fare revenue.

When will the project be open?

The project is planned to be opened in 2028.

What is the engineering phase?

On July 28, 2017, the Federal Transit Administration approved Durham and Orange Counties’ light rail project to advance into the Engineering phase of the federal Capital Investment Grant Program.

The FTA approval letter read in part: “FTA has determined that GoTriangle has the technical capacity and capability to effectively manage the Engineering phase of the Project.”

FTA evaluated the Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit (D-O LRT) project and issued favorable ratings in three major areas: the local financial commitment, the justification for the project and the project’s engineering readiness. FTA’s favorable justification rating is based on mobility improvements, environmental benefits, congestion relief, economic development effects, land use and cost-effectiveness.

Project next steps: 

  • GoTriangle will continue working with a general engineering consultant to complete the detailed design work needed to construct the Project.
  • The Durham-Chapel Hill-Carrboro Metropolitan Planning Organization will resubmit the Project through NC DOT’s funding process. Under current state law, the project may receive up to 10% of its funding from the state.
  • GoTriangle, working together with its partners in Durham and Orange counties, will continue to advance the Project so that FTA is able to recommend federal funding by 2020.
  • The Funding and Community Collaborative – made up of leaders from local universities, health care institutions, government and the private sector – will continue working to support the project by helping to identify potential in-kind, land and monetary contributions from public and private partners.
  • The construction process is expected to begin in 2020, with service beginning in 2028.

What happened with this year’s state budget?

The General Assembly amended budget language that would have made it nearly impossible for Durham and Orange counties’ light-rail project to secure the $1.2 billion federal investment needed to build the project.

According to the technical correction, the light-rail project would be eligible for a maximum of $190 million provided that all other nonfederal funds for the project are committed by April 30, 2019, and that all federal funds are committed no later than Nov. 30, 2019. It also states that no state funding may be expended for a light-rail project until a written agreement is provided to the North Carolina Department of Transportation establishing that all nonstate funding necessary to construct the project has been committed.

In the coming weeks, we will be working closely with Durham and Orange counties to assess exactly what the new language means for their project.

GoTriangle plans to submit the final application for federal funding by the end of 2018, expecting to receive approval by September 2019 through a Full Funding Grant Agreement. Construction of the light-rail project would begin in 2020, and by 2027 the line would be open and connecting three major universities and medical centers, offering access and opportunity to more job-seekers and employers and creating tens of thousands of jobs.

The funding model continues to anticipate a little more than $1.2 billion, or 50 percent of the total project cost, to come from the Federal Transit Administration through the New Starts grant program. With up to $190 million now eligible from the state, the remaining funds would come from local and private sources including the voter-approved transit-dedicated investment in Durham and Orange counties.

Potential changes to the light rail project

As the Durham-Orange Light Rail Project progresses, GoTriangle will review and consider requests for change (RFC’s) to the current project design. GoTriangle will make official recommendations based on public feedback and technical requirements. Here are the latest recommendations according to the date each was presented to the public.

September 26th & 28th

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