• Georgia Commuter/HSR Rail Proposals (Georgia Rail Express)

  • General discussion of passenger rail systems not otherwise covered in the specific forums in this category, including high speed rail.
General discussion of passenger rail systems not otherwise covered in the specific forums in this category, including high speed rail.

Moderators: mtuandrew, gprimr1

  by Champlain Division
Not counting chickens, but hopeful nonetheless…
Deal opens door to revive Lovejoy commuter rail

By Paul Donsky
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 11/15/06

After months of uncertainty, the commuter rail line between downtown Atlanta and suburban Clayton County is back on track and could be ready to pick up its first passengers in two years.

An agreement has been worked out between Norfolk Southern and the state Department of Transportation to run passenger cars on the rail company's tracks. The DOT board is scheduled to be briefed today on the details.

About $106 million, mostly in federal funds, has been earmarked to build the 26-mile line, which would terminate in the south Clayton community of Lovejoy. It's set to become the first commuter rail line in Georgia and offer traffic-weary southsiders an alternative to congested freeways.

The project has had a rocky history and appeared in jeopardy several times despite having funding in hand and support of a majority of DOT board members.

Last year, Norfolk Southern said they could not strike a deal without an additional $8 million in track upgrades, which would have pushed the project over budget. And in March, state lawmakers quietly passed a bill that required legislative approval for spending on commuter rail —- a potential death blow considering the Legislature's wariness of funding big-budget transit projects.

But the recent closing of the Ford assembly plant in Hapeville eased the rail company's upgrade demands. And the legislator responsible for the commuter rail measure has said he meant the law to affect future projects, not the Lovejoy line.

"The money is in place, and we've already approved it," said DOT board Chairman Mike Evans, who personally opposes the project. "The General Assembly has said the little amendment does not affect the Lovejoy line, so we are, shall I say, full steam ahead."

Evans said one potential roadblock remains. The agreement calls for the DOT to give Norfolk Southern $54 million for track upgrades, and the rail company wants to make sure they won't have to pay taxes on the exchange —- a possible $16 million hit. The company is waiting to sign the deal until it receives clarification from the Internal Revenue Service, Evans said.

State DOT officials say they don't believe the problem is serious and are confident the deal will be reached. Norfolk Southern officials could not be reached for comment.


Staff writer Eric Stirgus contributed to this article.
Link to Atlanta Journal Constitution article

Mod note: Please include link to article next time.

  by Rockingham Racer
Nice to see some positive news from Georgia. Hard to believe that a DOT person in charge is anti-rail, though. All he's got to do is get in touch with what's going on in the rest of the big cities across the country.

  by gt7348b
I find that the DOT staff is not generally anti-rail, but the board chair from Cumming (northern suburb or exurb) and previous board chair from Rome, are both very anti-rail to the extent that they zeroed out the budget for the intermodal program - which included salaries for staff in program (all three of them). This is the program that worked on rail projects, though mainly freight rehabilitation in south Georgia. Georgia's constitution is also like New Hampshire's in that all gas tax monies must be spent on roads and the only other funds are usually from motor-vehicle registration fees.

And remember, Georgia just bucked the national trend in the last election. Hopefully this service will finally happen.

  by Jeff Smith
For anyone who is interested, here are some links to GA Rail studies and resources.


http://www.dot.state.ga.us/dot/plan-pro ... ndex.shtml

The fact sheets and maps are a tremendous resource. There is also the proposed beltline here:


Why for the life of me Atlanta can not get commuter rail going when the area is strangling in traffic is beyond me. I also don't understand why they don't start with potentially the path of least resistance - the route that the Crescent takes over NS from Gainesville out to Birmingham. It would seem to me that the track is already in condition for passenger rail (no upgrades necessary as Amtrak already runs on it, unlike Lovejoy), and it runs along a populated corridor. Start with rush-hour service, a demo project. The studies seem to indicate that Gainesville would be a high-yield line, for ridership and farebox recovery.

  by Otto Vondrak
What's the status of Atlanta commuter rail?

  by gt7348b
Well, the GDOT Intermodal Committee visited Chicago Union, Penn in NY, and Boston South Station trying to see for themselves what multi-modal centers were all about. There is movement towards making a decision, but which way I have no idea - there is too much uncertainty in the legislature regarding transportation funding in general, the new DOT commissioner who is trying to reform the agency (google Georgia DOT Bridge Inspections and find articles for February 7), MARTA's direction under its new general manager (Dr. Beverly Scott formerly out in Sacramento - she started on Halloween), and all the other politics. It is in the political arena, though planning continues ahead (as always).

Recent work includes:

Updated report in December by RL Banks where the consultant flat-out told the Metro Chamber, local politicos, and the DOT board that the market exists here, they just have to make a decision (http://www.tpb.ga.gov/Documents/Commute ... -11-07.pdf ) - actual quote "You want more riders - run more trains, you've got the demand" - and a conceptual regional transit vision from the Transit Planning Board (http://www.tpb.ga.gov) that is in public engagement that includes four commuter lines (http://www.tpb.ga.gov/Documents/TPB/Dec ... 121207.pdf) amongst other things.

Overall, not much concrete progress, but the entire tone of the conversation at the political level has shifted from "who cares" or "its horrible" to "we need to understand this and make a decision" and "what do we have to do to negotiate access (i.e. improvements to freight capacity)."

These are just my observations.

  by gt7348b
Oh, and the the DOT board chair who was previously more hostile to transit (see my post from a little over a year ago), now believes transit, including commuter rail, is a necessary part of the transportation system. A year ago that did not seem to be his position at all. Quite a shift.

  by Jeff Smith
Lots of politics going on with the DOT. Someone powerful in the GA Assembly didn't care for one of the board members and tried to have him evicted because he didn't vote for his selection for the new DOT chief. That could be part of the reason for the turnaround.

  by gt7348b
Actually, the shift occurred this summer prior to all the brouhaha across the street in the Gold Dome. I think he said a thought something along the lines of "Transit moves 500,000 trips a day in Atlanta - how would we even add the made more trips to our roadway network?" caused him to re-evaluate his position. I happen to think it is a genuine change that could really lead to some movement forward on Commuter Rail in Georgia (finally).

  by Jeff Smith
I heard some interesting news on WSB-AM today about Amtrak working with state and regional agencies on expanding operations on new routes and increasing freq's on existing routes. The "Southern Crescent" was specifically mentioned. I'll do some digging, but anyone with any knowledge on this? Also posted a thread in Amtrak.
  by Jeff Smith
I haven't checked any of my links recently, but the Governor seems to now be in favor. Given his lame-duck status (I think he's term limited, but still has a couple of years on his term to go), and his contentious relations with his own majority legislative party (a good thing if you ask me), I still wonder if it will get done.

Still, his comments indicate nothing will happen until next year's legislative session (GA has a part-time legislature, which keeps them out of trouble), at which point gas pricesmay have lessened, or we will have gotten used to them, or both. They need to get on the stick now so they can start getting some second hand rolling stock while they procure new stuff.

And, for the life of me, I can not understand why they are insistent on Lovejoy or Macon, when they could easily get better ridership on an existing passenger line, the Amtrak Crescent. All they would have to do is contract with Amtrak and get them so rolling stock; you have a line which would not need immediate improvements and could start up much quicker. Not that the Lovejoy line doesn't need service; it's just my first two priorities would be Gainesville-Atlanta-Alabama and then Athens - Atlanta vs. Lovejoy - Atlanta.

  by JamesT4
Sarge wrote: And, for the life of me, I can not understand why they are insistent on Lovejoy or Macon, when they could easily get better ridership on an existing passenger line, the Amtrak Crescent. All they would have to do is contract with Amtrak and get them so rolling stock; you have a line which would not need immediate improvements and could start up much quicker. Not that the Lovejoy line doesn't need service; it's just my first two priorities would be Gainesville-Atlanta-Alabama and then Athens - Atlanta vs. Lovejoy - Atlanta.Thoughts?
It is about time, because it needs a commuter rail system, commuter buses are not going to work that well.

For one reason Macon is one of the largest cities, in GA, & I-75 which runs between Macon, and Atlanta, is always packed, & in my case in which I use to live in Atlanta, and have relatives who live near the proposed Macon line, that it is really needed, Athens to Atlanta is also another issue for people who live in this proposed routes, and traffic is just getting worse on I-85, US 78, & GA 316 ( which feeds into I-85). The Athens line is owned by CSX, and is a mix of single, and Double track segments , in which more sidings, or double tracks would have to be added, because it is an busy route out of Atlanta to the east.

The Gainesville-Atlanta corridor would be cheaper, because it is mostly on NS double track route, but also that is NS main route from Atlanta to the Northeast, and GADOT will have to make arrangements with NS to run commuter trains during peak times, or buy/lease the tracks from NS in which the latter may not happen. The Macon line is also owned by NS.

The Athens(pop.100,266), and Lovejoy/Macon (pop.97,606) line get priorities, that it will have service, so that traffic can go down on I-75( which is already 6 to 8 lanes between Atlanta, & Macon, & GA 85(which feeds into I-75), and I-85, US 78, & GA 316 ( which feeds into I-85) for the Athens Corridor, .

In regards to Amtrak running the service, it won't happen, Amtrak only runs two trains here a day by the Crescent route to & from New York, and New Orleans.
  by Jeff Smith
The ridership studies I saw on the previosly linked web-site indicate the Gainesville line (the Amtrak Crescent / NS line) had the highest ridership potential. Since it already carries passengers, albeit only twice a day, I figured it would be the easiest and quickest to get up to speed. There's more than enough room around the old Southern Railroad Peachtree station for train storage (there's already a siding for Amtrak when the train is annuled west of Atlanta) during the day time. There's also an existing passenger station with connecting bus service at street level, so no need to build a brand spanking new multi-modal station costing millions. If they could add a MARTA shuttle branching off the North line (it runs parallel just north of the Peachtree station) to Atlantic Station, this would have potential.

As for Amtrak running the service, they already run plenty of commuter operations, and would have a talent pool already qualified on the line to draw from. They may only run two "Amtrak" branded trains a day, but would probably be interested in running it under a "Georgia Rail" or "GRTA" brand if it gives them an increased qualified pool to draw from, and shared operations at the Peachtree, Gainesville, etc. stations. Norfolk Southern would also be interested, I'm sure. As I remember reading over on the Amtrak forum, the Southern Crescent continued to be privately operated by Southern Railroad after Amtrak inception (I'm not sure when they finally ceded it). It was a profitable line.

The Lovejoy line, I believe, is actually the NS "B" line heading south of Atlanta. NS would love to "share" that line, if it means upgrades and tax abatements. The reason the line is currently set to end in Lovejoy instead of Griffin or Macon, I think, is that south of Lovejoy I think the "B" line joins CSX. Believe me, I'd love a Macon line, or a Savannah line, as I get the "pleasure" of driving I-75 twice a week to consulting gigs in Atlanta.

Athens just makes sense, but would need the most work of the three. Still, I think it's priority 2 given the commute along 316 and UGA being a destination.
  by JamesT4
It about where people work at, and where the most transit connections are.

At the Amtrak station there are only 2 bus routes that go by the station, & is on the northern end of Midtown Atlanta along I-85, it is cheaper to do that, but Georgia wants to build a station (MMPT) around the 5 Points area of Downtown Atlanta, for that there are alot of more business, and that is will be close to the Marta 5 Points Station in which there are alot of local, and Regional bus connections, and also both the East-West/Proctor Creek, and the North/Northeast-South line interchange here also.

In which Amtrak operates, that they don't own any lines or stations (exception of the Amtrak Station) in Georgia, and like VRE/MARC, and that in my view even if Georgia do ask amtrak to run it's train that Amtrak won't do it, that NS might do it.
  by gt7348b
Actually, my understanding of the reason for stopping in Lovejoy was that was where they were able to get a political commitment for operational support (Clayton County), from 2004 until 2006 when a new Clayton commission took office. The NS S-line (line between East Point and Macon including Lovejoy and Griffin) is indeed of interest for NS because it is a lightly used line compared to the active H-line through Stockbridge and McDonough. It is probably the only main line around Atlanta that does not have significant freight traffic - even less now that the Hapeville Ford Plant has closed. If you want lots of fascinating information (including ROW widths, signaling information, etc) regarding the lines around Atlanta, check out this link (the interesting stuff starts on page 37): http://www.tpb.ga.gov/Documents/Commute ... -11-07.pdf. Of note is the recent interest at the GDOT and state level (not to mention Spalding County government and Henry County Chamber of Commerce) in the line to Griffin through Lovejoy, which was always the Phase I of the Atlanta to Macon line.

FYI - if you look up the American Association of Railroading's report on "National Rail Freight Infrastructure Capacity and Investment Study" (http://www.transportationfortomorrow.or ... _study.pdf) and look at table A-6 on page A-14 (near the end of the document) you'll see that many of Atlanta line capacity issues, with the exception of Austell to Downtown on NS and Howell Junction to Terminus, seem to be more issues of signaling infrastructure than anything else.