Stops In Newnan

Officials take first step toward Atlanta rail to Columbus

by MIKE OWEN - Ledger Inquirer

Columbus has taken the first small step toward realizing the return of rail service between here and Atlanta, according to a consulting firm that performed a feasibility study of high-speed rail.

The study, which was presented in its final form this week in Columbus Council chambers, says that a high-speed electric train, capable of speeds up to 220 mph, could be in place in about 20 years and could be profitable immediately, said Kirsten Berry, project manager for HNTB Corp.

There is a set process that the federal government requires rail projects to follow, Berry explained at a public hearing Tuesday at the City Services Center. Now that the feasibility study is done, two levels of environmental impact studies must be completed before preliminary design, final design and right-

of-way acquisition can be done over the next 18 or so years, Berry said. Then construction can begin.

But all of that is contingent on securing financing for the project, which would likely cost from $1.3 billion to $3.9 billion.

"Passenger rail is funded by a variety of different sources. There is not one source of funding for high-speed passenger rail. It comes in a variety of forms," Berry said.

Federal grants, including Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grants, capitol bonds and public-private partnerships are different ways.

Public-private partnerships are becoming more popular methods, Berry said, pointing to Atlanta's Multimodal Passenger Terminal as a recent example of government and private investors coming together.

In Florida, private investors are launching All Aboard Florida, a private initiative to build high-speed rail there, she said.

Mayor Teresa Tomlinson, who introduced Berry and later fielded questions about the proposed project, said it could potentially produce 11,000 jobs, the equivalent of four KIA plants. But just as important, she said, is bringing Atlanta and Columbus closer together.

"We're talking about connecting economic resources, such as our university system. Connecting Georgia State to Columbus State University. Connecting Emory University to the medical center," Tomlinson said. "This isn't just about going to Braves games. It's literally about making Atlanta a bedroom community of Columbus and Columbus a bedroom community of Atlanta."

There has been some talk about a high-speed rail being the last nail in the coffin for the Columbus Municipal Airport, but the exact opposite would be true, Tomlinson said.

"It's connecting our airports," Tomlinson said. "This could make the Columbus airport the sixth runway for Hartsfield-Jackson."

Richard Howell, director of the local airport, agreed that the rail line, which would ideally begin at or near the airport and end at or near Hartsfield-Jackson, would be a boon for local air travel.

"With high-speed rail and a one-hour connection between Atlanta and Columbus, coming right to the Columbus Airport, we'd bring 50 to 75 flights a day into this market," Howell said.

Consultants considered several routes and several different kinds of trains, but determined the fastest, and thus most likely to be immediately successful, would be an all-electric high-speed rail line that would follow Interstates 185 and 85 from airport to airport.

That option would be the most expensive, at $3.9 billion, but would be the one most likely to attract investors, Berry said, because of the prediction of immediate success.

The concept phase of the project would have the train, which can run from 150 to 220 mph, make one stop in Newnan and make the run between cities in an hour flat, Berry said.

The $350,000 feasibility study was funded with a Georgia Department of Transportation grant and donations from local businesses, so no local tax money was used, Tomlinson said.



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