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?