Commuter Rail

The idea of using existing railroad tracks for a commuter rail system has been around for a while. Some folks in Lilburn like the idea as reported by Douglas Sams in the Gwinnett Post:

LILBURN – A passenger railway shuttling commuters from Athens to Atlanta could run through the heart of this city, becoming an economic engine for downtown commerce.

This is the vision commuter rail advocates brought to the Lilburn City Council on Monday. They were led by E.H. Culpepper, chairman of the Georgia Bioscience Joint Development Authority and longtime supporter of the 72-mile passenger rail line.

Culpepper, joined by transportation consultants, is trying to kick-start a grass-roots campaign to show the public the railway’s benefits.

An Atlanta-Athens commuter rail system would run through the heart of Gwinnett and would link bio-research centers at Emory U. and at UGA.

I’m lukewarm on this idea. I just don’t see this relieving much traffic in Metro-Atlanta, but hey I could be wrong.


  1. Using existing track is a great way to do this. It’s hard for everyone to imagine using this as an alternative at this point — almost as hard of conceiving of a Democratic Governor 🙂

    But seriously, I know I’d like to be able to ride a train to Athens, go out on the town and not have to choose between sleeping there or driving back early. And I think quite a few people would take the train on game day to avoid the terrible traffic, especially if you could tailgate on the train. If it would help out the municipalities in between (like Lilburn) all the better.

  2. GAWire says:

    So, Chris, I assume you will advocate for less restrictions than MARTA, especially related to open-container and alchoholic beverage restrictions! 🙂

  3. ddreyer says:

    Anything will help.

    I think there are public safety concerns with kids (and tailgaters) driving back and forth from Athens after one or more drinks. And a move like this would boost tourism to Athens and help Athens recruit students from around the country with its close access to a great metropolitan area. Having used commuter train services in New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, London and Paris, it is hard to describe how valuable they are. It really opens up the region to tourism.

    And maybe of greater importance, this will help with the commutes. Atlanta has one of the worst average commutes in the country. That, not education, is what many businesses are most concerned about when deciding whether to relocate here.

    And this would improve the quality of life for residents who live in the suburbs/exurbs but work in the city by allowing commuters to get out of traffic (thereby helping those who drive) and allowing riders to work, make calls or relax.

    This is a win for the people of Georgia.

  4. Booray says:

    Commuter rail will not work in Atlanta. The only areas it does work have far higher densities of people than here (New York, etc.).

    It’s nice to go see a game in Athens on the train, but they did that until the early 90’s and even dropped that for lack of ridership.

    Commuter rail is a pipedream that sounds nice until you realize YOU would never ride it – and most people are just like you.

  5. Pappy says:

    If most people were just like me, people like you would be laughed off the stage/comments thread in seconds flat.

    As far as the tailgating goes, it would be pretty easy to just designate certain cars on the train as wet or dry based on ridership levels and game day schedules.

    Given the choice between:
    A.) Sitting in traffic on 316 for hours on end, drinking Dr. Thunder


    B.) Rolling into Athens in a little over an hour, sippin on gin and juice.

    I think enough people would opt for the latter to merit the rail line

  6. Bull Moose says:

    I think that we need to encourage the innovation of high speed rail in Georgia. Tie that in with light rail commuter trains and we have the potential to aleve a great deal of our state’s transporation problems.

  7. Booray says:


    I won’t laugh at you.

    The problem with the “theory” about people taking the train is that it never pans out in reality. That is the point of the story about the train to Athens.

    In the early 1990’s, a commuter train WAS run from Atlanta to Athens before and after every home game. Adult beverages and fried chicken were served. It was supposed to be a huge success, but they quit doing it because of lack of ridership.

    Maybe I did not make myself clear in my first post, but the failure of the actual Athens-Atlanta gameday train should be a cautionary tale about spending billions of tax dollars on commuter rail when we have huge needs in other areas where we know the money can have an impact.

    Booray Bussey

  8. Melb says:

    I like the idea and I would and have rode MARTA to places I know it will be hard to park or the traffic will be bad i.e. Braves games. The only problem I have now (living in the suburbs) is when I drive into Atlanta, all the traffic is horrible until I get past the MARTA station and 285 there is no traffic for me, so I just waited in an hour of traffic, why stop at the MARTA station when I’m ten minutes away and the traffic is gone? That is why I don’t ride MARTA not because I wouldn’t but because it is not convenient, if you make it convenient and take it to where people need it, they will ride it.

  9. Swifty says:

    Booray – you keep mentioning this previous commuter rail, but I can’t find mention of it. In fact, the old athens article seems to imply that there never has been something like this.

    It was studied in the 1980s, and even looked like it might become a reality in the mid-1990s. But years after the idea was first discussed, the question of whether a commuter rail line linking Athens and Atlanta will ever be built remains very much an open one.

    Can you give me a real source for your early 90’s train that served fried chicken? Or is this more of your made up bull?

  10. NewnanYankee says:

    I am glad to see this topic debated here, although some of the details have been muddled.

    First, Commuter Rail would primarily be for people commuting into Atlanta for work. It would run into town in the mornings and out in the evenings.

    A second step, once the commuter part is up and running, would be Inter-City Rail. That’s where you would be able to take the train to Athens to the big game.

    While it’s true that Atlanta doesn’t have the density yet in a lot of these areas, there still needs to be a first step. I mean plenty of pork money has been thrown at road projects that had no justification (see “Georgia’s High Tech Highway” from Perry to Hawkinsville).

    High-Speed rail is a great idea, but needs to come after some momemtum has been built with proven conventional rail technology.

    Another note about density: Many of the cities in Clayton County where the Lovejoy Line would pass through have planned redevelopments that would increase their density and help support the rail line. Unfortunately, they can’t move forward until the rail line does. While it was not a lot of people’s first choice to start the rail system (the Athens one was), it was what they chose. The legislature should pony up and give it a shot.

  11. Decaturguy says:

    Why not connect the line to Athens all the way to Savannah to further increase economic opportuinty in these areas?

  12. NewnanYankee says:

    A couple more comments:

    One: Before one of my earlier comments gets misconstrued – I am not advocating throwing good money after bad when I made the statement about road money. The state government has look upon some road projects as “spurring development” and I think they should do so in this case as well. Spurring Transit-Oriented-Development.

    Two: Decaturguy, the plan for the Lovejoy line is for it to expand on to Macon and then eventually to Savannah. The Athens line would have to make a big right turn.

  13. ddreyer says:

    Right Newnan, as I understand it, Atlanta to Lovejoy, then Atlanta to Athens, then Lovejoy to Macon, then Macon to Savannah.

    Eventually, I could get off work Friday at 5:00. Have a cocktail on the train with my wife, and we could get to Savannah in time for a late dinner in front of the weekend.

    Anyone who has ever tried to leave Atlanta Friday at 5 knows that is currently impossible.

  14. Booray, one big difference between the early ’90’s and now is that traffic and population between Atlanta and Athens has exploded. Even in 1998 when I started driving to Athens to see friends the traffic mas immeasurably better, and that was only 8 years ago.

  15. Pappy says:

    Many arguments against expanding mass transit are caught up in a catch-22.

    Oppenents’ claims that the city is not now dense enough to justify the expenditure or to attact sufficient ridership may seem reasonable now, but what about 10 years from now?

    If past and current trends continue, we’ll have added untold hundreds of thousands of people and cars to the metro area, at which point develoment will be dense enough to merit transit expansion, but it’ll cost a boat-load more for the very reasons which necessitate the expansion.

    Either we wait until we need it but can’t do it, or we do it now so we’ll have it when we need it.

    Also Booray, if you look back a little further in history (up to and immediately after WW2), you may find that Atlanta had a wonderful transit system (trolleys and such) which was dismantled for reasons entirely unrelated to lack of ridership.

  16. JaseLP says:

    Commuter rail is a waste of time and money. It does little to relieve traffic congestion. It’s a bottomless pit for money and a burden to taxpayers.
    Check out some of the works on commuter rail by Randall O’Toole.

  17. Harry says:

    I agree. The cost per passenger mile for such gravy trains is very, very high. It would be cheaper on the taxpayers to fly the passengers to Savannah.

    For example, almost from inception the train workers would be having a union and a pension – i.e. another Delta in the making.

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