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.
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.
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.
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.;
- Chattanooga, Tn.;
- Cumberland Galleria;
- Elizabethtown, Ky.;
- Jacksonville, Fl.;
- Louisville, Ky.