High-speed rail not a consideration in Atlanta airport’s master plan

By David Pendered

The future of high-speed passenger rail in the southeast is so uncertain that it is not a significant factor in the long-range master plan being devised for Atlanta’s airport, according to an airport official.

Hartsfield Jackson logo

Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Credit: HJAIA

“Given that there are not firm high-speed rail plans, that is not included here,” in the airport’s master plan now being devised, said Tom Nissalke, the airport’s director of environmental and technical services.

This assumption on high-speed commuter rail, and a myriad of other forecasts that are driving the master plan, are to be presented Dec. 4 in a meeting that’s open to the public at Atlanta City Hall. The Atlanta City Council’s Transportation Committee is hosting a two-hour work session on airport related matters.

Councilwoman Keisha Lance Bottoms asked Nissalke about the impact of high-speed rail on the airport’s future during his update Wednesday to the Transportation Committee.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has put the issue of high-speed commuter rail in Georgia on a front burner. Reed has been talking up the potential of what he calls a “trail of prosperity,” a high-speed commuter rail system to link Atlanta with Savannah.

Nissalke said the Federal Aviation Administration prepares the impact statements that drive the forecasting models.

“If there is an high-speed rail attracting passengers away from aircraft, it’s a very small number,” he said. “Given that there are not firm high-seed rail plans, that is not included here. … But we will be taking that into account.”

Nissalke also told the Atlanta City Council’s Transportation Committee on Wednesday that Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International Airport is expected to continue to dominate passenger air travel in the southeast.

No other airport in the region is positioned to overtake Atlanta, he said. Atlanta needs to be mindful of upgrades at airports in cities such as Orlando and Miami, but they are not likely to be game-changing events.

The number of passengers who use Atlanta’s airport is expected to rise from 92 million in 2011 to 120.7 in 2031, Nissalke said.

Questions about how the airport can accommodate a growth rate above 30 percent during that time frame are to be addressed in the master plan, he said.

“It will create a financial plan to determine who’s paying for what, and when,” Nissalke said.

The presentation of the master plan will be its second major public unveiling. The plan, which remains a work in progress, was the subject of an open house on Aug. 14 that attracted about 40 people, according to a report on the airport’s website.

Click here to see the report on the open house.

The opening of the fifth runway, in May, completed the recommendations of the 1999 master plan. The airport in January began a new master plan to manage Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International Airport through 2030. The new plan is to be complete in late 2013, Nissalke said.


David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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