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.

27 replies
  1. Cari Gerrits says:

    I think we’d be better served with a train of this sort between Atlanta and Savannah as I-16 is a terrible stretch of roadway and the time savings and passenger usage on this route would be far greater than on one to Chattanooga.Report

    Reply
  2. Mike Doyle says:

    Lets get creative.  Urge Georgia to offer to pay entire cost for bullet train from the  Atlanta airport to Chattanooga in exchange for Tennessee granting Georgia water from the Tennessee River to be piped to Atlanta.  Details (like cost) to be worked out.Report

    Reply
  3. mikeleeph12 says:

    Trump bankrupts everything has touched so I doubt his infrastructure pipe dreams are any exception.  We’re in for a long difficult 4 years.  I’m just praying the idiot gets impeached.Report

    Reply
  4. Bob Munger says:

    I visited Atlanta for the first time in a few years over Thanksgiving, and used MARTA quite a bit. I was a regular commuter in the late 90s. The system is really showing its age. IMO that money would be better spent on refurbishing and expanding MARTA.Report

    Reply
  5. Heath Harvey says:

    As I understand it, the Trump infrastructure plan is a tax credit to investors and construction companies. It provides no funding for the projects themselves.Report

    Reply
  6. Craig Kootsillas says:

    Cool idea, but I don’t get where the demand is. Seems that we haven’t solved the transportation problems of getting people around Atlanta effectively. Gosh. It takes half a day to get from Paulding to Cumberland through Marietta.Report

    Reply
  7. Debbie Newmark says:

    Umm. Why don’t we expand MARTA to solve our city’s transportation problems before we talk about a train to a different state? Streetcar Part II is what this is.Report

    Reply
  8. Dawn K. Crawford says:

    This region DOES NOT need high-speed rail AT ALL right now. Maybe at some future point, but not now. We need to get people in and out of the city LOCALLY much more efficiently before we start slinging folks to to Savannah, Athens or Tennessee. WTH? Georgia doesn’t need to even consider HSR until networks are built in other regions where it actually does make sense. In the south, that’s only Florida and Texas. Brightline is being built now in FL, and who knows what TX is doing. Dear GA – spend time doing things that actually make sense. IMO, this does not…SMH.Report

    Reply
  9. Mike Morgan says:

    Is this still a part of the quid pro quo for bringing water to Atlanta from the Tennessee River? I think it is more about getting Chattanoogans to the Atlanta Airport and bringing Chattanooga water to Atlanta than it is about anything centric to internal Atlanta transportation. Sometimes when you get more than 50 miles from Atlanta it is difficult to grasp how not everything is 100% about Atlanta.Report

    Reply
  10. Dave Cartwright says:

    A bullet train would make commuting to and from Chattanooga a lot more viable because of the consistent travel time. I think it probably makes a lot more sense for the Cartersville and Town Center commuters, though. I’d rather we had something like BART, though.Report

    Reply
  11. Ben Bryant says:

    MARTA’s not going to happen anytime soon; Maybe a valid case can be made to build a station across the river to the new Atlanta Braves stadium, that makes sense but that’s the limit and as far as it might go.Report

    Reply
  12. Laura Cavin says:

    Atlanta to where??? Let’s work on the buses to Marietta, Smyrna… I bet the politicians that are driven to work came up with this bright ideaReport

    Reply
  13. Matthew Rao says:

    Of course I would ride it. I’d also build it in a different corridor than Atlanta-Chattanooga, like Atlanta-Charlotte or Atlanta-Savannah, but if it’s done right, it’s the first link in a chain that can stretch southward and northward.Report

    Reply
  14. Fleming Patterson says:

    A speed train needs to go to a destination such as Savanah/Charleston or southern epicenter such as Charlotte or Raleigh Duram. Not Chattanooga. That’s like building a road to no where.Report

    Reply

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