published Saturday, January 15th, 2011

Up to 4 million projected to take high-speed rail link yearly

by Adam Crisp

by Andy Johns

A high-speed rail link between Atlanta and Chattanooga could draw between 2.6 and 4 million passengers annually when it finally gets under way in 2020, according to the Georgia Department of Transportation.

The number is important because some political leaders are saying the pricey rail links, which are proposed across the country, should be built in densely populated urban centers that can pack as many passengers as possible onto the multibillion-dollar investments.

Georgia DOT officials say the ridership estimate is based on figures gathered by regional planning organizations along the proposed 110-mile train path.

The estimate could potentially be lower than the actual number of riders, said Alan Ware, the DOT project manager.

"It's like anything -- if you build a new road, people always say, 'Why do we need that new road?' and then that one time they use it, they say, 'Wow, that made everything a whole lot easier,'" Ware said. "All of a sudden it becomes real popular."

Ridership figures are based on how many people would ride any leg of the route in a given day, Ware said.

The train has proposed stops at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, downtown, Kennesaw, Cartersville, Dalton, Lovell Field in Chattanooga and downtown Chattanooga.

North Carolina and Florida have rail proposals of their own.

By 2020, North Carolina predicts 1.7 million riders on its portion of an 80-mph line linking Charlotte, Raleigh, Richmond, Va., and Washington, D.C.

Florida is working on an 84-mile line between Orlando and Tampa that is predicted to carry 2.4 million riders. Illinois and Missouri are looking at a high-speed line between Chicago and St. Louis and they project 1.4 million to 2.5 million riders annually.


The Georgia DOT's estimated $6 billion to $9 billion cost is significantly higher than some of the other lines.

The Chattanooga-Atlanta line would travel at least 180 miles an hour at cruising speed. The extra expense for faster speeds would make the others look "pokey," said Joe Ferguson, who has spearheaded the rail line for the Enterprise Center in Chattanooga.

"If you do it right and you give them the speed and the comfort and the reliability, people are going to ride it," Ferguson said.

He said another cost would be rights of way or tunnels in downtown Atlanta, but he said some estimates say the line would cost between $5 billion and $6 billion.

The Florida DOT says trains will travel at least 168 mph and expects the project to cost $2.7 billion, and Illinois officials' estimate is more than $4 billion.

"Remember, we don't have mountains," said Richard Harnish, executive director of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association.

Patrick Simmons, director of rail for North Carolina, downplayed any competition.

"I'm just happy the folks are getting the numbers out there for people to look at," he said. "A rising tide lifts all boats. We need viable transportation alternatives in America."


Such cost projections make lawmakers flinch.

Last week, U.S. Rep. Tom Graves, R-Georgia, said the Atlanta-Chattanooga link was on the back burner until the federal government reins in spending.

Florida Rep. John Mica, the new Republican chairman of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has said high-speed rail should first be built in the population-dense Northeast.

"I am a strong advocate of high-speed rail, but it has to be where it makes sense," Mica told The Associated Press after the November elections.

New Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, a Republican, said the state needs to improve its transportation network, but it should rethink how it funds such projects.

"We must think innovatively to find alternative funding sources," Deal said in his first State of the State address. "In particular, because Georgia is an attractive destination for investment with a strong balance sheet and good demographics, public-private partnerships hold incredible potential."

Already, Georgia has funneled $14 million to study the Atlanta-Chattanooga rail link.

This month, the Georgia DOT is supposed to forward draft proposals for the project to DOT leaders as well as the federal highway and railroad administrations.

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 ...

about Andy Johns...

Andy began working at the Times Free Press in July 2008 as a general assignment reporter before focusing on Northwest Georgia and Georgia politics in May of 2009. Before coming to the Times Free Press, Andy worked for the Anniston Star, the Rome News Tribune and the Campus Carrier at Berry College, where he graduated with a communications degree in 2006. He is pursuing a master’s degree in business administration at the University of Tennessee ...

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skiddr said...

How can they project these absurd numbers when Amtrac connects 500 destinations in 46 states and three Canadian provinces. In fiscal year 2008, Amtrak served 28.7 million passengers

January 15, 2011 at 5:15 a.m.
fairmon said...

There is no questing high speed mass transportation must be part of the future means of public movement. The principle must be "user pays". An idea so great should attract money from benefiting businesses and the private sector for financing. Fees and tolls should be sufficient to pay for constructing, operating and maintaining. The cost estimates are based on today's dollar value and cost. The actual cost will be much greater, at least 2X estimates. Politicians and others participating in the planning need to think outside the traditional "tax and spend" concept.

Taxes on fuels should be increased and allocated totally to road maintenance. New roads and bridges should be paid for by those benefiting and users via tolls. State government's role paid for by taxes, fees and other revenue is primarily to protect, educate and incarcerate. Any activity beyond those should be self sufficient with the principle being "user pays". The need for those not sufficiently supported in that manner should be questioned.

Many local and state governments and the federal government are bankrupt but refuse to recognize and address the problem. The fix will be painful, an analogy is the treatment of an addiction but there is no "Betty Ford" center for the treatment of governments illness.

January 15, 2011 at 6:45 a.m.
XMarine said...

Please bury this high speed rail thing once & for all.It is nothing but PORK.It is not needed between Atlanta & Chattanooga.Think MAJOR CITIES for this project not POVERTY BELT CITIES.Ask yourself do I need to be in Atlanta in 15 minutes?Who does?Now you got it!Run it to Disney World if you're gonna run it anywhere:We're going to Disney World in only 45 minutes!!!! I can hear it now.

January 15, 2011 at 6:53 a.m.
Oz said...

Up to 4 million projected to take high-speed rail link yearly......Dream on. I don't need anything in Atlanta bad enough to ride the train. How do you get around once you get there? Marta? No thanks. I would feel safer walking through a jail.

Most people travel to Atlanta to shop and shopping would be hell knowing you had to bring items back on a train. Will an entertainment center from IKEA fit on the train?

January 15, 2011 at 7:27 a.m.
hambone said...

If passenger rail service were profitable CSX would still be running it!

January 15, 2011 at 7:56 a.m.
sandyonsignal said...

Each time the interstates get shut down whether it be from ice storms to accidents, commerce and travel is affected. Last week, proved a fine reason for the need for high speed rail. We had a total shut down of just about everything due to the road conditions.

We need another mode of transportation that is fast, reliable, and clean. The maglev that Wamp proposed is capable of super fast speeds up to 350mph.

Everyday, we have many people who commute back and forth to Atlanta, we also catch flights out of Atlanta, these people would be regular users of the rail. It isn't just for shopping or partying.

January 15, 2011 at 8:07 a.m.
whatsthefuss said...

The millions of riders will come to Chattanooga to use the airport and what we will get in return is a very busy sky with jetliners flying overhead day and night. It's not what I moved to this area for.

January 15, 2011 at 8:39 a.m.
alohaboy said...

sandy, you would still be on signal because if we had the rail, you would have to get down to the airport to get on the dang thing. A total waste of taxpayer's money.

January 15, 2011 at 9:05 a.m.
KWVeteran said...

When you're part of the problem, you can rationalize anything that will keep your job in place. The figures shown could as easily be fantasized as ten times what is given. The outlandish figure is something that the fantasizers thought the public would endure without question. Thus liberalism continues to abound and flourish!

January 15, 2011 at 9:23 a.m.
jpo3136 said...

How many millions of gallons of water are projected to be sent to Atlanta using a pipe slung underneath the train tracks?

It's a ploy to get right-of-way to water.

For years some of us have speculated that taking water is what the high speed rail claims are really about: the right-of-way access given to railroads. Notice how these high speed rail corridors are constantly proposed between Atlanta and a water supply.

Atlanta doesn't actually need Chattanooga passenger traffic. What, exactly, would they need us so much for that they would have to get on a high speed train to get up here right away?

Compare this to: what do they get a chance to do for themselves, commercially, with a new railroad right-of-way cutting across residential and commercial properties?

It's clear: this is about stealing water. Atlanta already wastes what it has. They have more than enough to begin with; every year they drain a lake's worth of water. Atlanta sits about 100 feet higher than Chattanooga. They have water trouble because they are too cheap to plan and support the conservation of water. It simply flows downhill.

This is about water. The railroad traffic part of it is flattery to get us to accept the loss of our resources.

Reject the train. It's a ploy.

January 15, 2011 at 9:44 a.m.
whynot said...

Actually jpo3136, Atlanta is about 1040 feet above sea level while Chattanooga averages around 675 above, so Atlanta is about 370 feet LOWER than Atlanta. However, when it comes to piping water to different places it doesn't matter-that is what pumps are for.

January 15, 2011 at 10:15 a.m.
keithandmissy said...

While I don't think the projections are accurate, I'm not sure I agree with a lot of the comments on here. There are many people who travel between Atlanta and Chattanooga (not everyone lives in Southeast Tennessee and refuses to leave after all).

Additionally, people are only discussing travel from Chattanooga to Atlanta. This is inaccurate. Since Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is reaching capacity, Atlanta is looking for a good option for a secondary airport. This is part and parcel with the high-speed rail proposal. A quick connection between both the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport and ATL is necessary for that to work. Otherwise, you'll see that air traffic (and economic impact) going to Paulding County (west of Atlanta).

Don't complain about a lack of jobs if you aren't willing to support initiatives (private or public) that bring economic growth to the region.

January 15, 2011 at 2:20 p.m.
BruceMcF said...

No other form of intercity transport in the US runs on the principle of pure "user pays". A recent report by PIRG found that gas taxes and other car fees only cover 50% of roadwork costs ~ which means all the other public costs of cars are completely unfunded ~ and even that is inflated because in most states gas is exempt from sales tax, so instead of being extra revenue going to road work, much of it is funds diverted from the general fund into roadwork.

Indeed, around the world, its High Speed Rail that comes the closest, covering its operating cost out of fares, with a surplus. Indeed, even Amtrak, which mostly runs trains that run slower than cars, is able to generate an operating surplus in the Northeast Corridor when it gets up to 70mph to 80mph average trip speeds on the Acela.

January 15, 2011 at 6:58 p.m.
BruceMcF said...

@skiddr Because its a high frequency corridor train with a max speed above 160mph and a likely transit speed of 120mph~130mph, not a once a day or less long haul train with a max speed of 79mph and a likely transit speed of 40mph~55mph

@XMarine: Yes, its important to balance the cost and benefit. An electric 125mph max corridor might well provide close to the same benefit for under half the cost. For some reason, though, the Georgia DOT always pushes the high ticket price version and never includes the Regional HSR option.

@Oz: When I was down in Atlanta last January for the Economist's convention, I got between the Conference Center and my hotel on Marta, and I don't get what you are talking about. You really find college students that scary? As far as shopping, it depends on what you are shopping for. Its certainly easier to carry stuff back by train than by plane.

@buge: its a train, not a jet airplane ~ a stop only adds 5min or so to the non-stop trip time (10min for the really fast ones like they plan to have in California). The stops might slow it down BY 30mph, but that's still a speed of 120mph~130mph. And just because there's a station doesn't mean every train has to stop at every station ~ over a hundred years ago we invented these things called "Express Trains", and I reckon we could remember how to do it if we tried real, real hard.

January 16, 2011 at 1:12 a.m.

High-speed Rail to Atlanta! Yea! Please, please be sure to connect HSR to the East Coast and the Washington, DC area. I want to be able to visit my son and grand-daughter! Oh, by the way, energy intelligence analyst are beginning to predict gasoline rationing will be necessary in the United States within 2 to 5 years. We can not wait until we run out of oil to build rail. We need a way to move people (and goods) from one place to another.>

JohnDough said...

Seriously?! 11,000 passengers ... 5,500 round trips ... a day?


That's funny! case we needed proof that planners will tell you whatever you want to hear so you'll give them your money. No scruples....

A desire named streetcar!

January 16, 2011 at 10:42 p.m.
fisher18_80 said...

JohnDough, do you think it's a two-passenger train? And remember, there are multiple stops. The 4 million number is any passenger the steps foot on the train. That could be from downtown to Cartersville or from the Atlnata airport to Kennesaw.

To answer an earlier question, this rail line will be more popular than Amtrak because it's faster. Amtrak runs around 80 mph at best. This train will run 180 mph at least. If it's faster to get on the train than it is to drive -- and cheaper or the same price as gas -- who wouldn't take it?

Some people would love to live in Chattanooga but work in Atlanta. What an amazing mix of the best of both worlds -- high-paying jobs in Atlanta + smalltown life in Chattanooga.

I can't wait!

January 17, 2011 at 10:09 a.m.
cc333 said...

I am proponent of mass-transit & esp. HS Rail but umm... not between Chatt & Atlanta. Why? No Comprende. There are a lot more places where rail is needed(in Florida & Texas between their metropolises). There are enough people living in the Chatt. MSA ! I recently moved here from Austin,TX, which went from a cool/nice medium sized city to a mini-megalopolis in less than 20 years.All the crap that goes w/ bigger city life would come to this region,all for the worse:traffic,higher prop. taxes and esp Yuppies!Hi-speed jaunts to/from Atlanta would mean too many folks moving here. I love this region like it is: a perfect size city w/ lots of rural/green areas!!! We should help to nix this before it goes any further.

January 24, 2011 at 7:04 p.m.
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