Published Friday, February 08, 2013
By Walter C. Jones
Morris News Service
ATLANTA – A Savannah legislator is pushing a bill that would create a committee to study the viability of a high-speed rail line between Atlanta and the coast.
Rep. Craig Gordon, D-Savannah, said he hopes to get support from the mayors of Atlanta, Macon and Savannah. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has often advocated for a line to link the cities as a way for Atlanta to exploit the expanded cargo expected to move through the Port of Savannah with the deepening of the Savannah River shipping channel.
Gordon said the rail line would capitalize on the federal and state funds going into the deepening project.
"I just feel between the investment that the feds and the state have in the ports, we should not overlook the opportunities," he said.
Besides moving freight, the trains could provide another route for tourists wanting to visit the capital or the coast, he said.
Gordon feels confident his bill, House Resolution 174, will win passage in the House because one of his cosponsors is House Majority Whip Ed Lindsey, R-Atlanta, and its aim is modest.
"I'm not trying to pass a billion-dollar bill. I'm just trying to pass a study committee," Gordon said.
HR 174 is pending in the House Transportation Committee where no hearing has been yet scheduled.
Gordon Kenna, chief executive officer of the Georgians for Passenger Rail advocacy, said he hopes the committee will study more than just the level of passenger interest or freight volume. It needs to consider how much funding the state will devote to it.
"The resistance to this has been, conceptually, that Georgia has been unwilling, so far, to put any funding toward transit of any sort, and especially passenger rail," Kenna said.
The legislator suggested private, foreign companies would be interested in partnering with the state to build and operate the railroad. But Kenna said they would be unlikely to do so without significant government financial support.
One indication of legislative sentiment, according to Kenna, was the defeat Thursday of the most ardent advocate of rail service on the State Transportation Board, Emory McClinton. He, lost his re-election after 20 years on the panel that runs the Department of Transportation. His loss could indicate legislators, at least those voting in the 5th District he represented, are no longer enthusiastic about a state-run railroad, Kenna said.