Trains For America

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Atlanta Journal Constitution columnist backs HSR

There is an idea floating around which might deal with congestion into Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson. It is promoted by Delta Airlines and calls for building a second airport. It is the kind of grand idea which, if proposed by any other pie-in-the-sky daydreamer, would be laughed out of town.

Sit down for the good part. Those brilliant airline executives want that second airport to be constructed in Chattanooga. The good part of the idea is that they have somehow concluded that this satellite airport should be connected to the Atlanta hub by high speed rail.

This idea actually has the seeds of a good European model, except big airports are connected to many other cities by HSR.

Cynthia Tucker, a columnist with the Journal Constitution has it exactly right in a very well thought out opinion piece.

The looming capacity crunch has prompted Sen. Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga), chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, among others, to promote a Chattanooga connection. “I think many people in the northern areas would consider the Chattanooga possibility, especially with the traffic problems we have in the Atlanta area. It would be a smart concept as opposed to building a new airport,” Mullis said earlier this summer.

The problem with that argument is that it misunderstands the passenger dynamic at Hartsfield-Jackson. Not even half the airport’s flights originate with passengers in the northern arc of the Atlanta region who want to fly to another city. As Anderson noted, 70 to 75 percent of Hartsfield-Jackson’s passengers are simply changing planes. Imagine requiring some of those passengers to ride a train to or from Chattanooga.

But Mullis is onto something with his proposal for high-speed rail. He should get moving on that. As passenger rail becomes faster and more efficient, it will drain off some airline passengers taking shorter trips — say, from Atlanta to Greenville, S.C., or Winston-Salem. Although it’s 600 miles from downtown Atlanta to Washington, D.C., it’s easy to envision a day when that trip, too, is a convenient high-speed train ride.

For reasons that are not altogether clear, Georgia’s political leaders have been slow to embrace passenger rail travel. It gets bogged down in a morass of half-baked ideological notions, conflated with their suspicions of MARTA and poor people as well as liberals and environmentalism, and hamstrung by their provincialism.

But if Mullis can see the value of high-speed rail as a connection between airports in two different cities, surely he can see its value just to connect the two cities. And if high-speed passenger rail can connect Atlanta and Chattanooga, why not Atlanta and Jacksonville or Atlanta and Greenville?

If Mullis can get others on board for his proposal for high-speed rail, he could be the region’s next Hartsfield.

Filed under: Regional USA Passenger Rail, United States High Speed Rail

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