The Train

Contrary to my snark about the commuter rail to Hell Macon, I actually support this.

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.

I think before focusing on areas so far away, like Macon, we need to be exploring the Metro-Atlanta corridor, like trains from Douglasville, Alpharetta, Duluth, Lawrenceville, etc. There is just no reason to go all the way to Macon right now. Deal with the problems we already have.

Likewise, while I think money could be spent on road upgrades, etc., I think we can only build so many lanes. We should supplement with a rail system and yes, I actually agree with George Will — just as we approach road building as a government enterprise from which no profit will actually be recouped, we should view commuter rail in the same way. It should not be viewed as an enterprise to break even, but one that flows from the natural obligation to support and expand the state’s infrastructure.

26 comments

  1. Bill Simon says:

    Erick,

    I’m certain a thoughtful gentleman like yourself would only support something like this if you had a decent amount of evidence that such a transportation line would pay-off.

    Please cite me some stats on the amount of commuter traffic (via autos and any current public transportation) there is right now between Lovejoy and any community north of I-20.

  2. StevePerkins says:

    I see some conservatives flirting with subsidized government trains every now and then simply because of perceptions about the alternative. The assumption is that we have a choice between supporting subsidized rail, or else “doing nothing at all”.

    That’s completely untrue. A year or two back the state hired the Reason Foundation, a laissez-faire small government think thank and research consultancy, to perform a study on metro traffic and make recommendations. The result is just being released this week, and is getting strong coverage in local media (Atlanta Business Chronicle, AJC, and a front-page story in the Gwinnett Daily Post).

    They basically call for the adding-on of special toll lanes… so that people who are in a hurry can pay a little to get where their going faster, while people who don’t want to pay tolls don’t have to. The toll revenue pays for the construction costs over the long run, and is a burden only upon the people who use the service… as opposed to subsidized rail that is paid for by everybody despite only a tiny portion of suburbanites projected to use it.

    Frankly, given the media coverage I think the Reason Foundation proposal deserves a bump to its a thread of its own, rather than being discussed in add-on comments to yet another rail post.

  3. SpaceyG says:

    Suffering from post-election letdown, boys? Traffic issues helping? How about cops in Dekalb County blowing away their citizenry? They’re up to #12 now, and Vernon Jones (now there’s an always bloggable dude!) has asked the people to lay down their weaponry. Knives and stuff. Unbelievable…

  4. drjay says:

    i’m not an atlantan so i don’t know much about it–how is this different from the marta they alredy have??–if it is different could you not just expand those lines???

  5. John Douglas says:

    The FY 2006-2007 budget bill includes this:

    g.) No State Funds or proceeds of General Obligation Debt shall be utilized for the acquisition, construction, development, extension, enlargement, rehabilitation or improvement of any commuter rail passenger facilities unless otherwise specifically appropriated thereby herein.

    Translation: No public funds funds can be used for commuter rail without the specific authorization of the legislature.

    The story in the AJC today is wrong according to insiders at DOT. No such approval is even close as much more needs to be done. Not the least of which is to overcome the intense opposition of the Republicans representing Henry County in the House and Senate, including me.

  6. Bill Simon says:

    Well thank you, Senator John Douglas for demonstrating that the gay lifestyle is NOT always on your mind, and you ARE representing the taxpayers well. 🙂

  7. MediaGuyAtl says:

    I told the GADOT survey that called me last month that another highway should not be widened or built until they have a guarantee o the table that a MARTA rail line will be built along side of it.. MARTA Rail is not convenient except to about 30% of Metro Atlanta’s population. Go to any city, Chicago, New York, Montreal, Paris, London, Moscow and they all have rail ines that are conveneient to everyone! Marta rail North line ends in Dunwoody, yet we have an incredibly huge work force working 15 miles north at Windward Parkway. East line ends at 285 near memorial drive, Well Stone Mountain and farther out Snellville house a huge population. Marta North east line ends in Doraville yet there is a huge population in Duluth, Suwanee and points north. Cobb county NO RAIL LINE, West rail line ends at 285 near I-20 but go farther west past Six Flags, Austell, and to Carrollton. South line ends at airport, why not Peachtree City.. All these suburbs are NOT served by rail and until they are we are going to have a severe traffic problem.. People will not ride buses but they will ride rail. Buses travel the same clogged highways trains travel on rail, hello! Let’s get real Atlanta, time for Sonny to say You want to spend a billion for roads? NO we’re spending it on rail, No more MARTA board the State will take it over and we’re increasing rail lines 10 fold, rail along 285 all the way around, rail along every interstate at least 20 miles outside 285, that’s where everyone lives the last time I looked from a Delta airlines flight into Hartsfield.. Come on let’s get real here and it’s time to put our money into rail for all! Beltline around Atlanta should be built immediately! Why is Shirley so against it? Why don’t we have Marta rail near Clifton Road and Emory, last study I saw we had almost 30,000 people working or going to school in that area.. Why can’t there be a rail station there? Spur line from Lindbergh Station, hell there is an existing rail line there currently.. Come on! Let’s build rail properly please! NOW!

  8. fulldawg says:

    Commuter trains would do so much to enhance not just Atlanta’s economy but also much of the state’s.

    Our Gold Dome Boys (and Ladies) could learn a lot from the Chicago area train system. While not perfect, one can ride from Aurora (30+ miles west) and arrive downtown at the Sears Tower for a nominal fee.

    The payoff is there, just not directly in dollars but rather in the overall economy and quality of life.

  9. Erick says:

    Bill, frankly I have none beyond what I have read in the newspaper. And I suppose that I should clarify that I think the northern and western parts of Atlanta are more in need of something to alleviate the problem than Lovejoy.

    But from what the newspaper suggests, with the rapid pace of growth in South Atlanta, it is only a matter of time before that is needed.

    My concern, though, is that the gov’t and DOT are going to screw it all up anyway.

  10. katurner says:

    People:
    I think we’re overlooking something. Commuter trains are fine as long as we don’t have to ride with the winos and hoboes. I have never ridden MARTA or other public transportation but something tells me that many people won’t give up commuting in cars unless absolutely necessary.

    Citizens of Henry County thusly has good reason for not wanting a commuter rail line in their district. There are also right-of-way acquisition and noise/infrastructure impact issues.

    I would like to see someone present a color-coded chart of violent crimes and superimpose a commuter rail map for metro Atlanta upon it.

    KAT

  11. kspencer says:

    Actually,

    I’d be fascinated to hear why Senator Douglas doesn’t want the train in his district.

    In most places of the nation the resistance is from everyone whom the rails will NOT be serving, because they are “paying for other people’s benefit.” This near-unique situation deserves input.

    Senator, why do you oppose the rail system in your district?

    Kirk
    (Not one of your constituents)

  12. Probably because his opponent got over 30% of the vote and he feels that if more trains come to his district, it’s only a matter of time before more Democrats locate there as well.

  13. kspencer says:

    Chris, I’m actually wanting an honest – not snarky – answer. I would not vote for Senator Douglas if I were in his district, but the reason is because I completely disagree with him on FairTax and a couple of other positions. But I don’t disagree with him 100%, and besides it IS his district and I would think he’s got good reasons instead of merely re-election to what’s really a poor-paying part-time gig.

    Kirk

  14. JP says:

    KAT, the level of traffic in the region and the startling lack of alternatives to the car is evidence of negligence. I’m with Erick on this–we can not consider Atlanta a world-class city, or Georgia a world-class state, if the regional transportation infrstructure is kindergarten level.

    And honestly, as for your worry about the “winos and bums,” I doubt they’d be even a small segment of the market for transportation between distant cities.

    The sad state of commute times in the metro alone — stemming from what appears to be a Republican tendency to resist area wide planning as a sort of “regulation” — is strangling the city and keeping it from living up to its potential. IF you like that, fine, but don’t expect everyone to. I look forward to one day living in a city where transportation isn’t by definition pains-taking.

  15. John Douglas says:

    OK, here are the reasons I oppose the commuter rail for Henry County:

    1. The tax payers will be upgrading the rail bed for Norfolk Southern which means that their freight trains will have free access 20 hours a day to run faster, thanks to working Georgians.

    2. Yes, 20 hours a day…..the commuter trains will only run two hours in the am and two hours in the pm. If you need to get home at another time, too bad.

    3. The round trip ticket will be around $12. enough said there.

    4. The train would only cross a small portion of Henry County at Hampton but taxpayers county wide would be told to help pay for it.

    5. The new Mayor and City Council in Hampton were elected on anti commuter rail platforms. A majority of the county commission also opposes the rail line.

    6. No commuter rail system in the world, outside of Japan, is self sufficient. That means taxpayers would be paying for it forever. Meanwhile, Norlfolk Southern’s freight business would be bustling at taxpayer expense.

    7. NS would be paid a large sum of money to upgrade the rail bed but now they dont want to pay taxes to the federal government on this gift from those same taxpayers.

    8. No program has ever been successful getting people around Atlanta out of their cars. Neither will this be successful in that area.

    9. Visit the MARTA Five Points station after dark some time when you are in Atlanta. Tell me whats wrong with that picture.

    10. The trains will only go to the Intermodal Station as they come into Atlanta, then its busses or taxis after that, very inconvenient and time consuming.

    11. If there was a market for passenger rail or commuter rail, dont you think NS or CSX would already be doing it?

    12. Finally, its easy to spend taxpayer dollars on “pie in the sky” projects when you dont have to worry about profit margins or accountability.

  16. Harry says:

    Let’s hope all the taxpayers allow the reality of those comments to settle in. Those of you who like to spend your money this way, I gots a train set in the attic that I’ll sell ya for cheap.

  17. kspencer says:

    Thank you, Senator.

    Some of those points I’ll research as my belief is they’re incorrect, but I’d rather work from fact and change minds than ignore facts and, well, be an idiot. I’ve been wrong before.

    Kirk

  18. Jason Pye says:

    The new Mayor and City Council in Hampton were elected on anti commuter rail platforms. A majority of the county commission also opposes the rail line.
    I can say that this is absolutely true.

    You really ought to get in check your fear of black people, Senator Douglas.
    Decaturguy,

    I know you want to piss away my money, but what you said was uncalled for and it’s very far from the truth.

  19. Demonbeck says:

    It’s stupid unless you are creating a non-stop highspeed commute from Macon to Atlanta – forcing people to decide whether to drive South to Macon to pick up the train or north to Atlanta to go to work.

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