NASHVILLE - It's a major part of the city's past, but could there be a choo choo in Chattanooga's future?
Amtrak officials have been discussing with Tennessee officials a proposal to establish an Atlanta to Nashville line. Stops could include one in Chattanooga for the first time since 1971 as the nation's passenger railroad service explores the line.
Tennessee House Transportation Committee Chairman Dan Howell, R-Georgetown, said the state is certainly interested but cautioned it's too early for anyone to start tooting just yet.
"It's just proposed," Howell said of Amtrak's idea, which would provide medium- and long-distance intercity service in the contiguous U.S. and nine Canadian cities. "Amtrak came to us so there's interest there. But there's a lot of moving parts. It's like putting a puzzle together."
Howell said he discussed the proposal with Gov. Bill Lee and in early December attended a meeting with an Amtrak official, Tennessee Department of Transportation Commissioner Clay Bright and TDOT staff, as well as Senate Transportation Committee Chair Becky Massey, R-Knoxville.
That resulted in discussion about it before the transportation committee. Ray Lang, Amtrak's senior director of national and state relations, explained 17 states are now under contract with Amtrak. Ridership is increasing, especially in more populated areas,
which Howell said "would fit the profile of Nashville, Memphis and Chattanooga, with some potential stops along the route, in such cities as Jackson, Murfreesboro, Tullahoma, etc.
"I do feel this plan has promise, but I recognize it is a long-range goal and greatly depends upon Congressional approval of the upcoming [federal] Surface Transportation bill - possibly in March-May," Howell said.
Even if it comes together, it may take four to five years.
For more than a century, Chattanooga was a major southern rail hub, which made it a critical stop worth fighting for during the Civil War. Glenn Miller and his orchestra later immortalized both the city and its railroad ties in 1941 in the famous song "Chattanooga Choo Choo."
The city had two train stations. One known as the Terminal Station operated by Southern Railway, which today is the centerpiece of the Chattanooga Choo Choo hotel and entertainment complex. The other was the Union Depot, which belonged to L&N. It was torn down amid controversy in the early 1970s.
Steve Freer, operations supervisor with the Tennessee Railway Museum in Chattanooga, said passenger service ended at L&N's Union Station in 1971 as Amtrak become operational. Southern had already closed its Terminal Station, the site of Glen Miller's famous song.
While there's been discussions of a Chattanooga stop over the years, none came to fruition.
"I think it would be exciting," House Finance Vice Chair Patsy Hazlewood, R-Signal Mountain, said of the possibility that service could materialize.
Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, quipped "the one from Ooltewah to Nashville? I would love to have train service from Chattanooga to Nashville. Think of all the work I could do driving up."
Rep. Robin Smith, R-Hixson, said "anytime I've had a conversation about trains related to going through Georgia, they always want to tie our water to it. And I'd be absolutely opposed to anything that would give away Tennessee's water."
Georgia has been trying to gain access to water from the Tennessee River for years.
Contact Andy Sher at email@example.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.