Atlanta's mayor says he's interested in exploring the idea of a high-speed train link to Savannah, and a Chattanooga official is upbeat that the mayor appears on board the bullet train project.
"In a public comment, it's the strongest I've heard from an Atlanta mayor," said Wayne Cropp, chief executive of Chattanooga's Enterprise Center.
Mayor Kasim Reed compared the potential of a new bullet train line to creation of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport years ago, according to Morris News Service.
Reed's comments came Tuesday after a ceremony celebrating the groundbreaking of Porsche's North American headquarters near the airport.
The mayor said it's too soon to draft a timetable for the rail link, saying the first step is to start a public conversation.
Chattanooga, Atlanta and transportation officials from Georgia and Tennessee already are studying the high-speed rail link and are awaiting the OK from the Federal Rail Administration to start drawing down on $13 million.
Cropp said he's hopeful FRA releases the money next year. He said that Chattanooga-Atlanta-Savannah could be part of a corridor eventually holding a high-speed train from Chicago to Miami.
Cropp said Reed sees the advantages of the fast train.
"He's a visionary leader," said Cropp, whose entity oversees the rail effort for Chattanooga.
The next step in finalizing the route between Chattanooga and Atlanta could take about two years, officials have said.
The rail project has the local $3.3 million in matching money needed for the federal grant for the Georgia Department of Transportation to administer.
GDOT kicked in $1.5 million and Chattanooga gave $1.3 million. The Tennessee Department of Transportation and Atlanta each contributed $250,000, officials said.
Both GDOT and Atlanta chipped in matching funds for the first time to support the bullet train initiative.
Chattanooga officials have been disappointed the rapid-rail initiative hasn't moved faster, but they view it as a long-term effort.
Former Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, when he was speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives from Georgia, helped secure initial money to study the idea in the mid-1990s.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.