A Trump presidency and a bullet train between Atlanta, Chattanooga

By David Pendered

President-elect Trump’s plan to spur $1 trillion in infrastructure investment may coalesce just as the finishing touches are made to the proposal for a high-speed railroad to connect Atlanta and Chattanooga.

china train

President-elect Trump praised China’s network of bullet trains in his 2015 book, Crippled America: How to Make America Great Again. Credit: chinatourmap.com

It’s clearly premature to speculate whether the bullet train would ever be funded. The cost could top $10 billion, depending on the route. Not to mention that Trump and Republican congressional leaders disagree over the importance of infrastructure funding.

Trump put infrastructure on his project list for his first 100 days in office. According to Trump’s “Contract with the American Voter,” his administration will introduce and fight for a law that “[l]everages public-private partnerships, and private investments through tax incentives, to spur $1 trillion in infrastructure investment over 10 years. It is revenue neutral.”

In his 2015 book, Crippled America: How to Make America Great Again, Trump wrote:

President-elect Trump’s 2015 book

President-elect Trump’s 2015 book

  • “Domestically, we need to undertake a massive rebuilding of our infrastructure. Too many bridges have become dangerous, our roads are decaying and full of potholes, while traffic jams are costing millions in lost income for drivers who have jobs in congested cities. Public transit is overcrowded and unreliable and our airports must be rebuilt. You go to countries like China and many others and you look at their train systems and their public transport. It’s so much better. We’re like a third-world country.”

On the flip side, Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Nov. 9 that infrastructure is not a top priority, according to a report by npr.org.

All that said, the Atlanta-to-Chattanooga project has just completed a major administrative step in a process that started officially in 2007. The draft environmental impact statement has been completed and the public comment period on the draft statement has closed, as of Nov. 22.

Three possible routes have been identified. Travel times from Atlanta’s airport to downtown Chattanooga range from 88 minutes to 102 minutes, depending on the route. The main decision to be made is whether to route tracks through Rome or Chatsworth. Multiple stations are to be built along whatever route is selected.

proposed train routes

Three potential routes were chosen for a proposed train to link Atlanta’s airport with downtown Chattanooga. The preferred route is to stay along the I-75 corridor. Credit: dot.ga.gov

The next steps, once funding is provided, are for a preferred route to be selected and for a final environmental impact statement completed. This work is to be completed by the Georgia and Tennessee departments of transportation. GDOT likely will do most of the heavy lifting because most of the route passes through Georgia. The Federal Railroad Administration is to sign off on the route agreed to by the two departments.

Once this step is complete, these three entities will evaluate the potential alignment of the preferred route and prepare a final environmental impact statement.

Meanwhile, engineers will be evaluating the technology to run the train. The two options are steel-wheel technologies and maglev. Maglev, or magnetic levitation, uses magnetic fields to cause the train to glide above the rails.

Either way, the goal is for trains to travel at or above 180 miles an hour.

During the past nine years, engineers identified and evaluated 15 potential alignments of the proposed railroad. This list was narrowed to three potential alignments, plus a no-build alternative, and the draft environmental impact statement was created. This is the document for which public comment closed Nov. 22.

The evaluation of alternatives states:

  • “The I-75 Corridor Alternative [$8.8 billion] is the best performing Corridor Alternative. It rates High for most performance measures, including travel time, capital cost, use of existing transportation corridors, potential noise and vibration impacts, and potential impacts to known historic resources, wetlands, floodplains, and known threatened and endangered species habitats. It rates Medium for ridership and stream crossings. The I-75 Corridor Alternative does not rate Low for any of the distinguishing measures.

    gdot train route ranking

    Engineers determined the preferred route of a proposed railroad to link Atlanta and Chattanooga is along the I-75 corridor. Credit: dot.ga.gov

  • “The East Corridor Alternative [$10.4 billion] rates High in terms of potential impacts on wetlands and stream crossings, and rates Medium with regard to travel time and potential impacts to known threatened and endangered species habitats. The East Corridor Alternative has more noise-sensitive land uses than the I-75 Corridor Alternative, and it has the most vibration-sensitive land uses of the three Corridor Alternatives. The East Corridor Alternative performs least well among the Corridor Alternatives in the areas of ridership, capital cost, and potential impacts to known historic resources and floodplains.
  • “The I-75/Rome Corridor Alternative [$9.8 billion] rates High for ridership and potential impacts to known threatened and endangered species habitats. It rates Medium with regard to use of existing transportation corridors and potential impacts to known historic resources and it rates Low for travel time, potential noise impacts, and potential impacts to wetlands and stream crossings.
  • “The No-Build Alternative projects would provide some improvements in roadway and transit operations within the Project Area, by increasing capacity and expanding service in selected portions of the Project Area transportation network. It is reasonable to expect that these planned improvements would reduce travel time and congestion of roadways in the Project Area, and increase transit ridership where new or expanded transit services are proposed. However, none of the No-Build Alternative projects alone or in aggregate will enhance passenger mobility throughout the Project Area between the metropolitan areas and airports of Atlanta and Chattanooga as specified in the Project purpose. For this reason, the No-Build Alternative does not achieve the Project purpose.”


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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