a pixel art rendering of a high speed rail train running with the Atlanta skyline in the distance.

Good news everyone! Georgia has federal passenger train study funding!

In combination with some great news about funding a lot of sorely needed railroad projects and studies at the federal level, Georgia’s U.S. Senators Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock announced new grants to explore three new Georgia passenger rail corridors made possible by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

The new rail routes would connect major economic centers in Georgia and neighboring states, providing additional public transit options, increased mobility, and a sustainable, clean-energy future.

Starting from Atlanta, the routes being studied are:

  • A route heading northward with stops likely in Marietta, Cartersville, Dalton and points north into Tennessee that would connect with Chattanooga and efforts in that state to create a line from there to Nashville.
  • Extending south and eastward, a route that would likely have intermediate stations in McDonough, Macon and end in Savannah with a connection to the Amtrak route linking Florida and DC on the east coast. There’s also the potential to create a branch that would go due south out of Macon, through Valdosta and link with Tampa or Orlando. It would be nice to get some two-state talks going with Florida on doing something together since Brightline is already plying the rails down there and its now a known quantity.
  • Perhaps the most interesting and likely first to get going is a high-speed line between Atlanta and Charlotte. The in-state routing on this one is not known, but it’d be very strange if Athens was missed. The growing South Carolina towns of Greenville/Spartanburg definitely and perhaps Anderson/Clemson would get stops depending on routing.

Another point of discussion is where exactly in Atlanta would these routes be emanating from; ATL’s current train station for Amtrak service on the thrice weekly Crescent service from DC to New Orleans is basically a glorified waiting room with rails and stairs that lead to Peachtree Rd just north of Midtown. There were some efforts to build a new multimodal station Downtown right across from the Five Points MARTA station, right where a bunch of railroad tracks pass through a trench. While we do need a world-class rail terminal for a world-class city like Atlanta (especially to help get a commuter rail service off the ground — more on that later,) let’s not ignore our 900-pound gorilla lying 8 miles south: Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

Remember, the reason Atlanta even exists is because of rail transportation.

Literally the World’s Busiest Airport for 20+ years definitely needs to be tied into any long-distance (and commuter!) rail options here. The catchment area of passengers includes not just the entire state but anything that would beat a car ride from an area of about 200 miles in diameter around us. Every time I’ve been in one of Hartsfield’s parking garages, I’ve seen cars with South Carolina, Alabama and Tennessee tags that are definitely not rentals. With frequent enough service, it could be very possible to simply leave the car and take the train to the airport and catch a flight. Most Americans can’t realize this convenience right now but take it from me after living in Japan for almost 20 years, being able to just hop a train even in the most remote parts of the area and get to Haneda, Narita, Kansai and Nagoya Centrair airports without worrying about long-term parking or begging for a ride from friends is a great thing.

According to Axios, how much of the $8.2 billion will wind up in Georgia for its rail project — or the timeline for the project’s start and completion is a big question mark. One thing I’d like to know is does some of this money help look into a regional rail solution here around Atlanta that’s desperately needed. Just like NYC, LA and Chicago, whatever helps the commuter rail network, would ultimately be good for the longer distance trains as well since they could share the tracks. That ATL Trains idea is still the best idea I’ve ever seen and really, REALLY needs to be formally studied with this money. Check out the 146-page prospectus and the ATL Trains website yourself, it’s that good!

My take: Just like the Eisenhower Interstate Highway projects of the 1960s, the US really needs a rail renaissance in order to help face this brave new world of climate change, population and demographic shifts into sunbelt cities that didn’t keep up infrastructure-wise (building another lane isn’t cutting it Chief!) and the simple paradigm shift of decentralization in our metro areas in general– How many people do you know BEFORE the pandemic that worked “downtown?” OK, now how many people actually even go to an office every day? Our transportation network needs to be more dynamic and flexible to account for these shifts and overlaying a decent rail network, both nationally and locally, is paramount. This is in addition to dealing with improving road and air travel; those need to be sorted as well.

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  1. Adding #urbanism and #transport for visibility.

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