Chattanooga gets $400,000 federal grant for light rail study

photo Staff file photo / Railroad tracks running parallel to Holtzclaw Avenue are part of the existing rail network Chattanooga is hoping to use in a light rail network that would connect downtown and urban neighborhoods to the airport and the Enterprise South industrial park.

The rusty rails that rest throughout the heart of Chattanooga may be revitalized if a new federally funded study shows a proposed light-rail route is feasible for the Choo-Choo city.

The city of Chattanooga announced Monday that it has been selected for a $400,000 federal grant to study the potential of transforming existing, neglected railways to provide a light-rail passenger system within the city limits.

"We are taking an important first step," said Mayor Andy Berke.

"By putting our railroads back to use, we could create an incredible impact in our community and increase the quality of life of our citizens," Berke said in a statement.

Chattanooga was among 72 cities to receive federal grants from the U.S. Department of Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery program.

The grant money will go toward the $700,000 cost of the study, which will evaluate the project that is estimated to cost $35 million.

The study will evaluate a proposed plan to use an existing 21-mile freight rail line that stretches from downtown to the Enterprise South Industrial Park; and will also look at an implementation strategy for a 23-mile long passenger rail system in the core of the city.

The study will specifically examine passenger demand, route options and fare structure.

U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn, said in a statement, "I am confident a passenger rail option would allow us to utilize existing rail infrastructure and provide transportation options to residents throughout the city."

Ken Hays, president of the Enterprise Center, said that this is a progressive step for Chattanooga and one that is actively planning ahead for the city's future.

The rail system would offer Chattanooga new and additional opportunities for economic development and growth, Hays said.

Berke said that the rail service would make travel to the airport and Enterprise South more convenient, and it will also "connect our most disadvantaged neighborhoods to jobs, classrooms, grocery stores and health care facilities."

Hays said that the proposed route would help areas like Highland Park, Bushtown, and Glass Street be more connected with the city, "and to be more productive and strong neighborhoods."

If the study finds the project to be viable, the city said that this new rail system "would complement ongoing plans to revitalize the city through transit-oriented development, enhancing the city's efforts to improve air quality by transforming to a more pedestrian-and transit-friendly community."

Contact staff writer Kendi Anderson at or at 423-757-6592.