Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

Transit and intercity rail at odds in Atlanta

It’s certainly a no-brainer that transit and intercity rail are great bedfellows. Rail service is made more attractive by good transit at its stops, and vice versa. Unfortunately, fixed-guideway transit and rail both need their own right of ways, which can be hard to come by in developed cities. The desire for one particularly attractive guideway has pitted the City of Atlanta against Amtrak and the state’s DOT. Atlanta wants it for its beltline transit project, and Amtrak says it will need the ROW so that any future high-speed rail can connect to a downtown terminus. Jay Bookman of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

In brief, here’s the issue: The northeast quadrant of the Beltline, known as the Decatur Belt, is a 4.3-mile piece of railroad right of way formerly run by Norfolk Southern. Running through residential areas and along Piedmont Park, it is the most commercially valuable property on the 22-mile Beltline; the city’s plans for financing the project depend heavily on private investment in that area.

But before the property could be freed for other uses, Norfolk Southern had to get an OK from the U.S. Surface Transportation Board to abandon it as a railway.

The DOT, while supportive of the Beltline, believes that preserving the Decatur Belt as a railway is essential to eventually bringing high-speed rail and commuter rail service into a proposed multimodal station in downtown Atlanta, near the Five Points MARTA station. It also believes that the Beltline property could accommodate all three uses — Beltline, high-speed rail and commuter rail.

So earlier this month, without apparent warning to the city, the DOT filed a last-minute objection with the Surface Transportation Board to try to stop abandonment. If it succeeds, and if Amtrak succeeds in condemning the land, it could kill the Beltline project altogether.

Not sure how I feel about this one. If the railway abandonment was for the purpose of building a parking lot or condos or something, I’d say Amtrak should definitely be able to condemn the ROW. Unfortunately, Atlanta desperately needs better transit, almost as much as the southeast region needs HSR and a good HSR hub, for which Atlanta is the obvious choice. Any thoughts?

Filed under: Amtrak, United States High Speed Rail,

8 Responses

  1. Scott says:

    I’m going to say that the State should be able to make a final determination — its likely Amtrak will be given more to state funding and state control in the near future, so the state should be able to figure out if they want to have HSR run through there or somewhere else. (under the when not if secnario)

  2. Anonymous says:

    This one is simple. There will never be HSR to Atlanta. Not only do you have to get the GA legislature on board, but worse, you need to get the SC legislature on board. The former is merely a ridiculously hard 20-year Sisyphean task; the latter is impossible. Atlanta should spend its money on the beltline.

  3. netdragon says:

    I don’t see why the 2 can’t share tracks for that stretch. I can imagine the HSR will be slowing down anyway once it reaches decatur.

    I think that should be the temporary solution while alternate alignments for HSR are considered long-term.

  4. jpittam says:

    The issue extends beyond just HSR vs. the BeltLine. Amtrak currently has no funding and no master plan to execute their theoretical HSR line. They also have other alternative routes and options through which to run a high speed line, which means there’s no need to stop the BeltLine. Amtrak has been talking about this since 1995 with no action taken, so when are we supposed to believe that they would take action now?

    Also, the right-of-way through parts of these intown neighborhoods narrows to 40 feet across – hardly enough room for a HSR, a pedestrian-friendly light rail, and a path. The train would also cut through Piedmont Park, one of Atlanta’s greatest assets. Piedmont Park is currently undergoing an expansion to the park’s greenspace and a HSR would sever that section from the rest of the park.

    Not to mention the threat to the preservation of our historic intown neighborhoods. Amtrak has mentioned large sound & safety barrier walls, which are not conducive to bringing neighborhoods and communities together as the BeltLine is prepared to do.

    The BeltLine (in conjunction with other forward-thinking plans in Atlanta) provides a long-term solution to alleviating many of Atlanta’s transportation problems with the added bonus of parks and 33 miles of trails. I’m all for regional transportation, but not at the sacrifice of such a critical project.

  5. brian says:

    tough call…the beltline is needed to make intracity rail in ATL viable, but intercity rail is also lacking. I’d like to hear more about the possibility of sharing the ROW.

  6. Chris G says:

    There is no reason other than politics that they can’t follow Karlsruhe Germany’s example here and mix the two.

    I am really sick and tired of this country’s need to study so many things that are being done successfully elsewhere.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Elevated and surface line to accommodate both.

  8. If experience is any guide…city politics tend to promise great projects while they let the developers nibble the land resources under the radar…and then eventually you learn that, gee whiz!, that potential ROW is now owned by dozens of developers building this and that.

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