New GDOT report shows high-speed rail routes serving Atlanta as feasible, costly; could begin service in 2028

By David Pendered

Atlanta could be at the center of a new southern network of passenger high-speed rail service that a consultant to the state Transportation Department has said is feasible and could begin operating no sooner than 2028.

The report does not address the sobering question of how to pay for the potential network, which would link Atlanta with four southern cities: Birmingham, Ala.; Louisville, Ky.; Savannah; and Jacksonville, Fla.

High Speed Rail Report, cover

A new report from a GDOT consultant determines that high speed passenger rail service is feasible, and could link Atlanta with four southern cities. Credit: GDOT

The new report reaches some of the same general conclusions of a freight logistics report GDOT released earlier this year: Georgia’s rail system has not kept pace in providing upgrades needed to serve its growing logistic industries and population.

Construction costs of the passenger system are projected to total $67.4 billion. Construction costs for the freight system are projected at $4 billion to $6 billion. Whether the two systems could share tracks and facilities is unknown at this time, according to GDOT.

Click here to read the new report on the feasibility of high-speed rail service.

Click here to read the previous report on recommended improvements in the state’s freight handling systems.

Gordon Kenna, CEO of Georgians for Passenger Rail, said he’s glad GDOT continues to study the passenger rail issue.

But Kenna, who saw hopes dashed for proposed commuter rail link between Atlanta and Macon, didn’t hold out much immediate hope that passenger rail service is on any list of governmental priorities.

High Speed Rail - map

The long-discussed commuter rail line from Atlanta to Macon is within the corridors that are feasible for a potential high-speed rail network. Credit: GDOT

Kenna had lobbied state and local officials long and hard last year for commuter rail to be included on the project list for the transportation sales tax. Local officials who crafted the project lists did not include the full commuter rail project, although a few relatively small track-related components were included on some project lists.

“As a practical matter, I don’t have a lot of confidence that Georgia is ready to make the commitment that states need to make in order to advance these kinds of projects,” Kenna said. “The irony in much of this is that this is far more important outside of Atlanta, in communities whether Griffin, Macon, or Columbus ….

“The whole concept of two Georgias is manifesting itself in this kind of issue, in that the rest of Georgia says, ‘We need to be connected to the money,’ – whether that is represented by the airport, or MARTA that connects to employment centers in the region, or the fact that Atlanta simply is the center of governmental and economic activity in the state.”

The new study shows that feasibility tests included operating ratios and benefit-to-cost ratios. A value greater than 1.0 showed the route is feasible. Here are the results:

  • Atlanta to Birmingham – 1.6;
  • Atlanta to Savannah/Jacksonville – 1.5;
  • Atlanta to Louisville – 1.4.

One-way fare prices are projected at:

  • Atlanta to Birmingham – $54.28 to $65.28;
  • Atlanta to Jacksonville – $119.41 to $152.24;
  • Atlanta to Louisville – $140.49 to $176.28

Revenues are forecast to exceed the costs of operations and maintenance:

Revenues, in billions:

  • Atlanta to Birmingham – $1.1 to $1.7;
  • Atlanta to Jacksonville – $2.7 to $4.4;
  • Atlanta to Louisville – $4.3 to $6.8.

Costs, maintenance and operations, in millions:

  • Atlanta to Birmingham – $44.3 to $81;
  • Atlanta to Jacksonville – $98.5 to $194.8;
  • Atlanta to Louisville – $132.4 to $211.8.

The following potential stations are identified in the report, listed here in alphabetical order:

  • Anniston, Ala.;
  • Atlanta airport;
  • Atlanta multimodal station (downtown Atlanta);
  • Birmingham, Ala.;
  •  Bowling Green, Ky.;
  • Brunswick;
  • Cartersville;
  • Chattanooga, Tn.;
  • Cumberland Galleria;
  • Dalton;
  • Douglasville;
  • Elizabethtown, Ky.;
  • Griffin;
  • Jacksonville, Fl.;
  • Louisville, Ky.
  • Macon;
  • Marietta;
  • Murfreesboro;
  • Nashville;
  • Savannah.

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.

4 replies
  1. Ready2Drive says:

    Any mobility option that is added to the city of Atlanta is greatly needed!  The first step in offering some alternatives to the transportation plan of Atlanta is through the passage of the Regional Transportation Referendum.  More light rail options and improvements to our aging highway structure is definitely needed.Report

    Reply
  2. The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

    {{“The irony in much of this is that this is far more important outside of Atlanta, in communities whether Griffin, Macon, or Columbus ….The whole concept of two Georgias is manifesting itself in this kind of issue, in that the rest of Georgia says, ‘We need to be connected to the money,’ – whether that is represented by the airport, or MARTA that connects to employment centers in the region, or the fact that Atlanta simply is the center of governmental and economic activity in the state.””}}
     
    Mr. Kenna need not take personal the disconnect between The Atlanta Region and the rest of the state where these transportation projects like regional commuter rail are important as a much-needed potential economic development as the collective local municipal and the state governments are together wildly dysfunctional and spectacularly incompetent. 
     
    Mr. Kenna and those like him other parts of the state need to understand and be aware that the Atlanta Region isn’t purposely not advancing commuter rail to spite the rest of the state, but rather it is the wildly dysfunctional and spectacularly incompetent politics of the Atlanta Region in which exurban and urban interests are attempting to out-spite each other along with the massive dysfunction and even more spectacularly incompetent state government that is now dominated by suburban and exurban Atlanta and North Georgia interests, that is the blame for the total lack of progress on transportation and closely-related statewide economic development matters. 
     
     Report

    Reply
  3. writes_of_weigh says:

    Now that there’s been a “Deal” on Georgia transportation funding, what miracle must occur here to avoid the debacle that is developing vis-a-vis privately funded Texas High Speed Rail planning? [http://biy.ly/1b3WL4L]Report

    Reply

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