published Friday, November 5th, 2010

Chattanooga-Atlanta rail plans on track


by Adam Crisp
  • photo
    Staff Photo by Laura-Chase McGehee/Chattanooga Times Free Press/ Nov 4, 2010 - L.N. Manchi, a consultant with Moreland-Altobelli, addresses the public about some of the details on the future Chattanooga-to-Atlanta high-speed rail line Wednesday night.

The quest to link Chattanooga and Atlanta by high-speed rail just got a little more focused.

On Thursday, the public got up-close views of the latest plans, and for now those drafts have been tailored to focus on a line that zips straight down Interstate 75 to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

Previously, the Georgia Department of Transportation had been considering 18 different zig-zagging routes that stretched from Atlanta to Rome, Ga., and some even went 20 or so miles to the east of I-75.

Now, with the route more defined, the state can begin studying all the implications of building the rails. They could have a plan before the U.S. Department of Transportation for approval by mid-2012.

Even though the project is moving quickly, it could be as long as 10 years before it's actually funded and construction can begin.

But the Atlanta-Chattanooga project still is outpacing other rail proposals in a network of lines that transportation leaders foresee linking Chicago to Jacksonville, Fla.

"This particular corridor is in the most advanced phase right now as far as planning and environmental assessment goes," said L.N. Manchi, a consultant for Moreland Altobelli Associates, a Norcross, Ga.-based traffic engineering firm hired by DOT to plan the rail line. "The Atlanta-Chattanooga segment is really a lead segment in terms of planning."

On Thursday, roughly 100 people turned out for a public meeting on the project. This was the first in a series of three meetings on the proposal. The next meeting is Monday in Dalton, Ga., followed by a Tuesday meeting in Atlanta.

After those gatherings, the state will develop a draft environmental impact statement followed by a final environmental statement which then will be submitted for final approval by mid-2012. The updated plan calls for a stop at the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport and in downtown.

Funding the project is a big hurdle. The state was not as far along as California and Florida in planning when the federal government handed out billions for high-speed rail earlier this year.

But two weeks ago, while speaking to transportation planners in Macon, Ga., U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the state could be in line for funding in the next five to six years if it "got its act together."

Also on Thursday, Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., who will oversee the committee when Republicans take control in January, said he didn't think the Florida and California projects should be funded because in his view they weren't true high-speed rail.

He said the northeast should get first dibs on high-speed rail because it has the population density to support the investment.

Georgia's rail project is the only rail line being planned from the outset to accommodate either maglev or steel-wheeled trains that can go as fast as 180 mph, Manchi said.

The rail line, however distant in the future, excited the crowd Thursday.

"I could see myself using it to shop, see sporting events, concerts, anything," said Matthew Adams, who attended Thursday's forum. "If it goes above 180 mph, you could be there in a hour, so you could really have a weekend day in Atlanta."

This type of travel could be commonplace in 50 years or so, said Horace Hatcher, who brought his grandsons to the event with signs proclaiming the virtues of high-speed rail.

"Fifty years from now, I want people to look back at high-speed rail and think of it as being like the Eisenhower interstate system," said Hatcher, whose 11-year-old grandson, Tyrese, is putting together a documentary on high-speed rail.

"I really just want to get on one of the trains," Tyrese said. "They look like they'd be fun to ride on."

about Adam Crisp...

Adam Crisp covers education issues for the Times Free Press. He joined the paper's staff in 2007 and initially covered crime, public safety, courts and general assignment topics. Prior to Chattanooga, Crisp was a crime reporter at the Savannah Morning News and has been a reporter and editor at community newspapers in southeast Georgia. In college, he led his student paper to a first-place general excellence award from the Georgia College Press Association. He earned ...

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chattyjill said...

as someone who has ridden high speed rail from osaka to tokyo and commuter railways in rural japan and all throughout western europe, i am extremely excited about this project. if this country wasn't big oil's gimp, we could have had commuter railways already in place today.

November 5, 2010 at 8:19 a.m.
holdout said...

My experience with Amtrak was an expensive ticket that got me where I needed to be 27 hours late and an unplanned layover for a night on the return trip. The employees were mostly polite with some very notable exceptions. But that was when gas hovered around $1.00 per gallon. I too lived in Europe and loved the transit systems there and I do hope that we can move to something similar here. European trains are on time and plentiful. That is what it will take to get people to use them here.

November 5, 2010 at 8:47 a.m.
Mangomax said...

When will US-Americans finally realise that they are some 30 years behind Europe and Japan, and now even China when it comes to technology and transportation? The problem is that US-Americans, continue to cling to the myth that their country is the greatest in the world. Blind patriotism is one thing, but to be a realist AND a patriot is another!

In 15 years time, When US-American trains (finally) crawl along at 180 mph (290 km/h), the rest of the world will be flying along in ultra high speed trains at speeds greater than 400 mph(640km/h)!

The current world record for conventional high-speed rail is held by the V150, a version of Alstom's French TGV which clocked 574.8 km/h (357.2 mph). The world speed record for Maglev is held by the japanese MLX01: 581 km/h (361 mph).

WAKE UP AMERICA!

November 5, 2010 at 9:35 a.m.
Terrco said...

Didn't anybody get the hint on November 2nd? WE ARE BROKE!!! The vote out of incompetent politicians will continue. Since 1972 Amtrak has received more than $13 billion of federal SUBSIDIES (for those politicians who don't understand that - it means it can't operate on it's own and therefore needs continuous handouts . Amtrak is now pressing for a half-cent of the federal gasoline tax in order to have a permanent "gimme" from the federal treasury. The people who pay the gas tax (people who drive their cars)aren't using Amtrak. ANY RAIL SYSTEM is going to have to be subsidized forever ... WE ARE BROKE, IT IS UNSUSTAINABLE. I am calling for all conservatives across America (yes you are paying for this also) to 1.) Shut this project down, 2.) identify all politicians involved and boot them out with the rest of the incompetent idiots NOW.

November 5, 2010 at 10 a.m.
Leaf said...

Wow, such vitriol expended on a transportation project. Why do people need to drag their political or religious beliefs into every question? This is a project that should stand or fall on it's engineering and economic merit. I don't see mad bombers demonstrating every time TDOT decides to widen a road.

November 5, 2010 at 11:49 a.m.
GARRS said...

Are you sure this is not a bait and switch to just show some people that little known train that has been running for decades?

Dont lie to me, ive rode on it.

November 5, 2010 at 2:48 p.m.
lightenin said...

HEYYYYY....10 years huh?, before the construction can even possibly BEGIN!?....hmmmm...and it has been in the planning stage thus far....how long? HA!!!! I've got a feeling that that they will still have meetings about the meetings prior and then they will have to remeet to discuss those prior to those meetings and then.. there are always those meetings that will have to followup, as well as the meetings for the future meetings......so by then.....everything will be outdated and lands will be purchased and the site moved again and then more meetings will have to happen. Hey.... anybody wanna apply for a job in 10 - 20 years? Anybody experienced at building an outdated rail? Won't need a rail by then.....Atlanta suburbs will be just outside our city limits. BTW: there won't be any money by then either. It all sounds wonderful and pretty but .... I have some doubts....we'll see ya at the meeting.

November 5, 2010 at 3:19 p.m.
mhbraganza said...

Does "conservative" mean "stuck in the past"? Yes we are broke but every year we spend billions of public funds to maintain public roads for private transportation - an antiquated arrangement that hasn't changed for generations and cannot last much longer. Let's embrace the future and pursue proper high speed rail systems (nothing like the pathetic Amtrak). We should try catch up with the rest of the civilized world in this area; our inter-city public transportation system is a national embarrassment.

November 5, 2010 at 3:44 p.m.
anniebelle said...

Yeah, right, terrco, we're so broke we're going to borrow $5.024 Trillion to give taxcuts to the wealthiest in this country. This even after the bushbot gave his bankster buddies $800 BILLION taxpayer dollars on his way out the door. When is the average American going to wake up to the Repuke ponzi scheme in this country. We have money for the top 1%, but not for the improvement of our delapidated and backward country. We're falling so far behind the rest of the world, it's just pitiful.

November 5, 2010 at 5:07 p.m.
MountainJoe said...

Another expensive boondoggle we can't afford. At any fare the average person would be willing to pay (remember, you can catch a Groome shuttle from here to the Atlanta airport for about $35) it will only take about 40,000 years to recoup the "investment" in a maglev train.

Take 1/10 of the proposed budget and buy every family in Chattanooga a brand new car and enough gas to make a round trip to Atlanta every week for 40 years.

November 5, 2010 at 9:06 p.m.
Amos_Ives_Root said...

I'm a Tea Party republican and I am opposed to and intimidated by any vehicles larger than my 2000 Ford Excursion Limited.

November 7, 2010 at 11:38 a.m.
Terrco said...

I voted for Bush. Yes, he was an embarrasment. BUT, he has been gone for two years and has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with here and now, Amtrak, or this ill conceived notion to build a high speed rail that NO ONE will use except a few folks. This project will require full time and permanent subsidies, and anyone with gel between their ears knows it.

November 7, 2010 at 1:43 p.m.
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