Plans for a modern, high-speed Chattanooga Choo-Choo picked up steam Thursday when federal officials agreed to fund a more detailed study of a proposed rail line between Atlanta and Chattanooga.
U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn., announced that the Federal Transit Administration will provide $14.2 million to pay for environmental and engineering studies of a proposed magnetic levitation train route through North Georgia.
The line will be among three routes in the eastern United States selected to share in part of $90 million that Congress set aside nearly two years ago for high-speed train studies.
"This keeps us in the high-speed rail program nationally and allows the Atlanta-to-Chattanooga route to advance forward to the next level," Rep. Wamp said. "Hopefully, this will eventually lead to high-speed rail service from Atlanta all the way to Chicago."
Rep. Wamp said the Obama administration appears ready to push for high-speed rail service, which he said could become part of America's transportation future in another decade.
The $90 million is the biggest chunk since Congress first appropriated money to study a maglev route from Atlanta to Chattanooga a decade ago. The Georgia Department of Transportation will administer the grant to conduct environmental impact assessments of possible routes and train stations along the 120-mile path.
Joe Ferguson, director of special projects for the Enterprise Center and a consultant for Chattanooga's high-speed rail plans, called the federal grant "a game changer" that should help propel the project forward.
Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield, a longtime advocate of the high-speed train between Atlanta and Chattanooga, has set aside $142,500 in his proposed fiscal 2010 city budget "to make sure we stay in the competition" for new rail routes.
WHAT IS MAGLEV?
Magnetic levitation trains, which now operate in Germany, Japan, China and the United Kingdom, use magnets to guide trains at speeds faster than 300 mph, far faster than today's trains that run on steel rail and wheels.