Tennessee Waving White Flag?

The Times-Free Press reports today that Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam has indicated a willingness to discuss trading Georgia’s Tennessee’s water for Georgia’s transportation dollars.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s spokeswoman Yvette Martinez indicated Thursday the governor would not summarily reject overtures from Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal that the two states work out a trade of Volunteer State water for Peachtree State transportation improvements.

“We are relying on our [environmental] experts … to continue to monitor the issue in terms of what is in the best interest of Tennessee,” Martinez said by email. “Governor Haslam has said that he is open to sitting down and discussing the issue with Governor Deal.”

Any solution for Georgia’s water woes, or Chattanooga’s transportation ills is years off, but there are some good signs here.

In October, US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said this project might be in line for federal funding in five or six years.

If attendance at public meetings is any indication, Tennessee may want this more than Georgia does.

Aside from the water aspect, it’s unclear to me how Atlantans or other Georgians benefit from high-speed rail to Chattanooga.

A GDOT consultant estimates a high-speed train ride from Atlanta to Chattanooga at 60 to 90 minutes. Add to that the necessity to get to Hartsfield-Jackson to board the train, and I might as well drive the two hours to Chattanooga. That way I won’t be faced with the question of how to get around Chattanooga once I arrive.

The cost of a round-trip on the eventual Chattanooga-Nashville route, similar in distance to Atlanta-Chattanooga, is currently estimated at $75 per person. Not a cheap ticket.

Conversely, unless you’re coming specifically to Hartsfield-Jackson to fly somewhere else, arriving in Atlanta without ground transportation is a difficult proposition at best.


  1. Max Power says:

    Why on earth would the train link go to Hartsfield? It should have a downtown stop and allow air travelers to transfer to MARTA. Secondly we should be aiming for speeds in the 160-180mph range which would bring the trip down to 45 minutes or so. Finally the Chattanooga Nashville proposal is a maglev which would cost significantly more than a traditional TGV type high speed rail and probably accounts for the high estimated price of a ticket.

    • Dave Bearse says:

      There could be no intermediate stops in Georgia at a 170 mph speed, in which case the project is useless to Georgia, unless taking a few hundred Tennesseans, and a few hundred Atlantans looking to visit Chattanooga off I-75 is worth a few billion.

      • bgsmallz says:


        Try reading the articles before commenting.

        1) cruising speed of 180mph
        2) proposed stops at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, downtown, Kennesaw, Cartersville, Dalton, Lovell Field in Chattanooga and downtown Chattanooga.
        3) A high-speed rail link between Atlanta and Chattanooga could draw between 2.6 and 4 million passengers annually when it finally gets under way in 2020, according to the Georgia Department of Transportation.

        Sorry the facts of the story got in the way of your pre-formed opinion.

  2. Todd Rehm says:


    In the articles cited, the Nashville/Chattanooga/Atlanta is a single continuous project that may be built in stages, but the technology will be the same throughout.

    Back in 2006, when people spoke of the “Brain Train” as if it were something more than a developer’s fantasy, the best estimate of the cost per trip was based on a 2001 study and pegged it at $6.40 one way from Lawrenceville to Emory, roughly a 35 mile trip.

    And that Brain Train estimate was based on traditional steel wheel on steel rail, not exotic maglev technology.

    If anything, I think that $75 estimate is optimistic, but even at that it’s overpriced.

    • bgsmallz says:


      The “Brain Train” is pre-2006. The GDOT pre-Purdue owned the website garail.com (now a mail order bride site) and had the commuter rail projects, including the train from Athens to Atlanta, set for completion by mid to late 2000s. Then Purdue pulled the plug in 2002. So…no, it was much more than a developers fantasy.

      And I’d wager that getting to and from Chattanooga takes much more than 2 hours when you are coming from the south of town…you know, where the airport is…at any other time besides 12 noon.

      But let’s look at it some more…
      The Atlanta airport to Chattanooga is 127 miles each way. Let’s say you have a car that does 25mpg on the hwy. That’s 10.16 gallons to do the trip. At $3.50 a gallon…which I think is pretty aggressive on the low end, that is $35.56. Parking at the airport is $12 a day in the economy lot…so at basically on a 3 day trip with a car that gets 25mpg and 3.50 gallon gas, you’ve hit the break even point of driving. And that doesn’t include the 1-2 hours each way of time you saved not sitting in Atlanta traffic (I don’t know how you value your time, but mine isn’t free) and also doesn’t include the 60-90 minutes of productivity EACH WAY you were able to accomplish riding on the train working on your laptop instead of driving your car.

      $75 round trip actually seems like a bargain.

      • bgsmallz says:

        And let’s also add in this nugget…the link to Chattanooga is just one link. If that opens up the link to Nashville at roughly $150 per round trip (assuming you can just multiply by 2), that’s competitive in time and price for air travel to Nashville, Charlotte, New Orleans, etc. Oh…and it reduces our independence on foreign oil by reducing our dependence on air and auto travel.

        But whatever. Sounds like a boondoggle to me.

        And as long as we are citing experts from GDOT…why not cite the expert in the 2011 article that you link to saying a estimated 2.6 to 4 Million people will use the rail link each year.

        • Todd Rehm says:

          Dude, your math fails.

          If I were to drive to Harts-Jacks, and park there for three days, and then take the train to Chattanooga, I’m out $75 for the train, and $36 for the parking, which is $111.

          Versus $35.56 for driving. Or figure .55 per mile, and it costs me $66. That’s for me and my wife. And now, I have my car with me so I can actually go the kinds of places I like to go if I’m in Chattanooga.

          Last time I was in Chattanooga, I went here and I didn’t see any public transit to the top of the mountain for the start.

          • bgsmallz says:

            Who the heezy is taking the train from Hartsfield to Chattanooga? And no, it isn’t connected to the Incline Railway so you can take it to Rock City.

            But let’s talk about math….$66 is one way. $75 is round trip. Oops. At .55 per mile, you’d be talking about $139.70 Round Trip. Dude, your math fails.

            Here’s a funny thing about supply and demand….my guess is that you would see (a) more Chattanooga hotels offer shuttle service from the train station and (b) more attractions offer shuttle service from hotels. Or Chattanooga might invest in better public transportation such a a light rail line from the station to the downtown riverwalk area to serve guest better. You see…rail is proven to spur investment and development….and those are the types of things you would expect to see if there was a rail station in Chattanooga…not that you would expect to see in 2011 when there isn’t one.

      • Todd Rehm says:

        I’m well aware of the history of passenger rail on the Emory-to-Lawrenceville corridor and it was anything but a done-deal.

        The owner of the real estate in question never agreed to allow its use, and without that, it’s dead in the water.

        Beyond that, it wasn’t approved to go forward by the FRA until 2004. In 2004, total state funding committed was $13.4 million. The projected capital cost was $311 million, and passenger operations were expected to commence within two years of the availability of $311 million.

        It was never going to happen.

        • bgsmallz says:

          Well…I had another comment up here…but I think I lost it. My understanding is that CSX has been on board since the late 90s….but that the issue is and always has been funding by our state of rail travel. It was never going to happen b/c Barnes lost and Purdue killed it. Its the same reason the GDOT is sitting on acres of prime real estate at 17th and Northside…because the land was bought for the commuter rail station under Barnes (using 400 tolls…but bought nonetheless) but has been sitting fallow for what…10 years now…

          Its my belief that we are falling behind other regions like Charlotte, Dallas, Denver, etc. that are investing in commuter rail, high speed rail, and light rail. I just laugh when I think that the state legislature of Georgia somehow thinks it has the market cornered on knowledge while other states must be pissing money down the drain.

          • Todd Rehm says:

            It’s easy for CSX to be onboard with something that they know will never happen, and reap the goodwill that comes with being agreeable. Just like the NS announced that they were onboard with atlanta-macon rail service that will likely never happn. Or like when my parents promised to get me a pony if I got straight-As in school.

  3. griftdrift says:

    My thoughts is this primarily aimed at business travelers. Increased access means better business opportunities for Chatt town. More flights into Hartsfield means more revenue for Atlanta. What’s good for Hartsfield is good for Atlanta and Georgia.

    • Todd Rehm says:

      But how good will it be when it’s expensive and takes as long from door-to-door as simply getting in your car and driving?

      If no one uses it, it’ll be yet another multi-billion dollar boondoggle. I don’t question the rationale that you state, GD, I question whether it’ll actually work out.

      • bgsmallz says:

        Yet another multi-billion dollar boondoggle? Give me some modern rail projects that fit that description?

          • bgsmallz says:

            Conrail? Are you serious? I assume you are only referring to the aspects of Conrail happening before the Staggers Rail Act…which you must be… considering Conrail began turning a profit in the 80s shortly thereafter and was sold during the largest IPO in US history to private investors. (Or is your definition of ‘boondoggle’ different than Merriam-Webster?)

            And what about those commuter rails that were divested by Conrail to local governmental authorities? Well….they are only 5 of the top 9 used commuter rail systems in the country. Boondoggle!

            • Todd Rehm says:

              It wasn’t until Congress exempted Conrail from all state taxes, allowed them to shed unproductive lines and Conrail got real private-sector management team in that they started turning a profit. But first they lost $2.2 billion.

              Better to have cut to the chase and divvied Conrail up to private companies earlier.

      • griftdrift says:

        It’s a good question. And cost-benefit absolutely has to be done. My point is we can’t look at the business scope too narrowly.

        For example, I have an office in Providence R. I. Believe it or not, there are times where it is more practical for me to fly to Boston and then drive to Providence. I could see this rail performing the same sort of function.

        Definitely do the necessary study. But don’t limit all the scenarios.

        • saltycracker says:

          Agree, run the numbers. The numbers of 2.6 to 4 mil @ year smell of a big fudge to rationalize. An Atl-Chat run has to take into consideration that a fair percentage of business travelers live above the city (less likely to use it). The volume probably comes from getting Tn. folks to Hartsfield, not Atlanta folks to the Tn. Aquarium. Include a water pipe too.

  4. Dave Bearse says:

    LaHood saying it might be in line for funding in five or six years is his way of saying never—LaHood will be gone in five or six years. As it stands now, the only reason this line is being considered is that it’s northwest Georgia political pork. (Mullis was nowhere to be seen when various rail project elsewhere in Georgia were being considered.)

    An Atlanta-Chattanooga line is a dud that squanders funds that could otherwise be used to develop a more viable line. Atlanta-Chattanooga connects to nothing has to deal with the toughest and hence most costly topography in GA. It places GA on the hook for construction match and operating subsidies that will benefit TN as much as GA.

    GA’s high speed rail focus ought to be Atlanta-Charlotte where it would link to states (NC and VA) that have established rail programs and aren’t transportation paupers like TN, and Atlanta-Macon-Savannah, wholly within GA as well as linking three GA metro areas, and that would connect to an Atlanta-Charlotte (and perhaps in the future Birmingham) line on one end, and I-95 corridor high speed rail on the other.

    • bgsmallz says:

      That’s true…there is nothing north of Chattanooga. I mean, Nashville, Chicago, the entire Midwest…who cares about that? And I think there is a valid point missing in most of my train comments….if this line taps us into the Tennessee River for water, we probably can’t afford not to do it.

      I will agree with you on a couple of points…I don’t think the Chattanooga line should be the number 1 priority if the water from the River wasn’t included. (Although, I do think it has greater potential than being a ‘dud’ and does connect to something a hair more than ‘nothing’)

      Atlanta to Birmingham always scores high on most studies…and I think connecting to Charlotte and the rest of the East Coast via Charlotte should be a priority. What we don’t need is an East Coast line stopping in Charlotte and not continuing to Atlanta.

  5. saltycracker says:

    200-300 mph rapid rail should be the consideration of first connecting the major population centers of 1 million or more. More interstate than intrastate.

    That then would suggest the first consideration would be a track involving Atlanta between the upper East Coast and Florida on a track connecting D.C. (#7), Charlotte (#33), Atlanta (#9), Jacksonville (#40) & Orlando (#26).

    Secondary consideration would be Atlanta – Nashville – Louisville – Indianapolis – Chicago and thirdly Atlanta, B’ham, New Orleans.

    When traveling 300 mph between these points there are only so many times you’d plan to stop.
    Working with real numbers might avert a few politically driven stop-offs. But don’t count on any real numbers, they cloud things up.

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