Trains Vs Trains: MAGLEV or Marta rail debated in Cobb

The Marietta Daily Journal brings news this morning that Cobb Commissioner Bob Ott will hold a town hall meeting to discuss a proposed MAGLEV train system to link Cumberland Mall to Acworth via Kennesaw State University. The cost is roughly the same amount planned for the Marta extension from mid-town to Cumberland. Click the link above for more details, but here’s the political angle from their story:

IF THE MAGLEV OPTION withstands scrutiny, it stands to turn the politics of TSPLOST on its head.

Cobb Commission Chairman Tim Lee (who is up for re-election next summer) has “doubled down” in favor of the Midtown-to-Cumberland light rail line favored by the Atlanta Regional Commission and his backers in the Cobb Chamber of Commerce and the Cumberland Improvement District. The lion’s share, or $856.5 million, of Cobb’s expected revenues from the TSPLOST, was originally earmarked for the line. But flack from the public, much of which sees the line as a way of back-dooring MARTA rail into Cobb, and at the expense of badly needed improvements to local roads and expressways, caused Lee to eventually support a plan that shifts $176.5 million from the rail line to various road projects, and which also takes $110 million from the rail line to pay for an upgraded “premium” bus line in the I-75 corridor.

Now Commissioner Ott, who has been sharply critical of Lee and the TSPLOST’s emphasis on the Midtown-to-Atlanta rail, has raised the stakes by, in effect, seeming to throw his support behind the maglev alternative. Not only would it be cheaper (at least as advertised), it also would go where commuting patterns show people are going (i.e., toward the Perimeter/Ga. 400 corridor); as opposed to where Cumberland/Chamber interests wish they were going (toward Atlanta). It also raises the question of why Lee and the Cobb Department of Transportation have shown no apparent interest to date in exploring what appears to be a highly competitive, much less expensive alternative to his TSPLOST rail plan — and a proposal that’s “home-grown,” to boot.

I’ll let you fine people connect your own dots in the space below.


  1. “The cost is roughly the same amount planned for the Marta extension from mid-town to Cumberland.”

    Errm, the Maglev is being estimated at $20M / (mile / km?) while the light rail is being estimated at $100M / mile. Surely the Maglev route isn’t 5x the length of the proposed light rail route, is it?

  2. griftdrift says:

    I know everyone is going to get wrapped around the axle with the number but I don’t want this to get lost.

    So it’s not going to connect to anything? BRILLIANT!

      • griftdrift says:

        Oh I see now. Some vague wording about connecting to “Perimeter”.

        How does that work? Across the top end? That means it has to cross into Fulton County.

        Will it connect to MARTA? How?

        These are not small questions.

        • Define connecting to MARTA. Are you suggesting that it has to be able to operate on the same tracks as MARTA? My definition is that the station for one has to be within a short walk of the station for the other. Kind of like how CalTrain / BART / VTA / Muni / etc. all interconnect. If a station is a block or two away from the other transit system’s station, is that not “connected”?

          And yes, this thing would have to cross into Fulton County. I don’t think hardly anyone expects any transit system funded by the TSPLOST to not cross county lines.

          While I’d much rather see this type of system funded with private dollars, if the TSPLOST does pass, this is the option I’d like to see instead of the proposed light rail from Cumberland to Midtown.

          • griftdrift says:

            That’s kind of the $20 million question isn’t it? I wouldn’t expect it to connect directly to MARTA but there has to be a station somewhere. And there has to be a connection between that station and the rest of the transportation network. What is it?

            As far as how well Cobb and Fulton play together on transportation, I simply point you towards Johnson Ferry Road.

            • The difference in Johnson Ferry Road and the Maglev system is that I don’t believe people are going to have their own private maglev vehicles operating on the network. There won’t really be any traffic lights, so it’s then just a matter of where the stations are located. From the article:

              “That’s when it’s expected that developers will present for the first time at a public forum their concept for a KSU-to-Cumberland-to-Perimeter magnetic-levitatation (“maglev,” for short) rail transit system.”

              So… I suppose in order to answer your question, you could always attend the town hall meeting Thursday night, since the details haven’t really been made public yet. I’m interested in hearing the details on it as well, though tomorrow is my anniversary, so spending an evening at a town hall meeting is kind of out for me tomorrow.

  3. The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

    The technology for the MAGLEV trains looks to be in its early stages and seems to need to evolve more before it can be regarded as a serious option.

    But the technology is something to think about using on passenger rail lines in the future, after it evolves somewhat.

    Though it is an idea that should not be totally disregarded…and it shouldn’t be used as an excuse to continue to do nothing about the rush hour parking lots that the roads in Cobb County have turned into.

    • Max Power says:

      Maglev is mature enough for passenger use, see Shanghi.

      But I doubt the cost estimates. It’s always been my understanding that maglevs weren’t as efficient for short hops because of the high initial energy usages. That being said I would love to see Cobb become a showcase for future rail tech.

        • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

          With a top speed of 60 m.p.h., this particular train looks like it needs to be refined a bit more even for intercity service.

        • Engineer says:

          Maglev would be interesting solution for an Atlanta to Chattanooga, Atlanta to Macon, Atlanta to Valdosta, or Atlanta to Savannah route (although of course with Savannah and Valdosta there’d probably be a station in or around Macon). It then makes you wonder what kind of prices one could expect for such long-distance rides.

  4. Engineer says:

    A train or MAGLEV from KSU to the Cumberland Mall sounds like it could generate some money from the students visiting the mall more often.

      • Engineer says:

        I was talking about for the Cumberland Mall, the one that is not “within walking distance of KSU”, after all, why would they need it for something within walking distance.

        • Max Power says:

          Why would you spend money to get on a train to go to Cumberland as opposed to going right down the street to whatever it’s called?

  5. bgsmallz says:

    Comment heavy on opinion ahead…sorry…

    I’m a rail guy…can’t hide it…I think the area needs a robust system which includes local rail, heavy rail, commuter rail, etc.

    I love this idea. Love it. Love it. Love it.

    I really don’t care how Cobb gets plugged into the system as long as it (a) gets plugged into the system and (b) it makes some sense.

    Frankly, this area needs more ‘symbols’ of progress…symbols of pride…etc. Being an early adopter of MagLev gives us an opportunity to have a signature point of progress to market to employers and businesses.

    I know that sounds silly…even as i type it, it looks silly…but its how I feel. To me, the TSplost and supported rail is largely about competing with other regions for jobs and investment….if it takes MagLev to get Cobb on board…so what?

    (alternatively…i keep thinking of the Simpsons episode about the Monorail.)

      • Bridget says:

        Bob Ott’s recommendation means something to fiscal conservatives in Cobb because he’s always the one watching out for the budget, tax increases, etc. He and JoAnn Birrell pleased a lot of people by voting against the 17% millage rate increase. I would openly consider something that Bob has vetted.

        Charlie :: Typo in first line – it’s Bob Ott, not Bill

        • Now if we can just get the commissioners to drop the 2 acre requirement for backyard chickens, which Birrell is staunchly against. Apparently barking dogs are okay, quiet hens are not.

  6. griftdrift says:

    If it’s nothing but an internal system then it really gets us nowhere. If it connects to the rest of the system then it gets us somewhere. But the devil is in those details.

    The one thing that is always ignored in the high dither around the Midtown-Cumberland line is that it opens options for continuing to grow the network.

    • rense says:

      Reference out the telecommunications field. A lot of it is getting different technologies to interoperate. You can get an “internal” system (something built for one company or department) to connect to “the rest of the system” (i.e. the Internet) just fine … it is as simple as putting software and hardware on the internal system that sends, receives, translates etc. data according to the same standard as the Internet. Folks do it – or at least did it – to put legacy systems online all the time. As it is done in telecommunications, it is done in transportation.

      So, you have an existing MARTA station. Just add a new wing, terminal or what have you, and build a MAGLEV track to it. MAGLEV trains go to and from that MARTA terminal and Cobb County or wherever. Folks coming from Cobb County into MARTA exeunt the MAGLEV trains and get onto the MARTA trains and vice versa. Which, incidentally, would have to be done if you were extending MARTA into Cobb County anyway. You would have to build the additions, the terminals, to connect the trains that go into MARTA into the current network. The only difference is that you won’t be able to send MARTA trains into the Cobb County line and vice versa. But since the goal is to move people, and not trains, you don’t need to.

      Look at air travel … it is no different from flying one of those ASA propeller plane deals from Columbus, Macon or wherever into Hartsfield (back when ASA still had those ATR 72s, EMB 110s and similar) into the ASA terminal and then going to the Delta terminal and getting on the jet. The ASA terminal in Valdosta doesn’t need to support those Delta A330-300 airbus jets in order to “connect into the system.”

      • Dave Bearse says:

        The connections in the Cobb proposal are called interstate highways. One heading to the metro Atlanta core from Acworth takes Maglev to Cumberland, then gets in a cab to get to MARTA at Perimeter Center or Midtown. Continuing with the air analogy, the Cobb proposal is about as convenient as flying into LaGuardia and catching ground transportation to fly out of JFK.

  7. saltycracker says:

    The points above left the multi-billion dollar fundings and jumped right to how to spend it.
    Jefferson Co. Alabama declared bankruptcy today.
    For Jefferson (Birmingham) it was sewers and maybe for our metro counties it will be rail.
    Note the point of “the banks should not have loaned us money we couldn’t repay” –
    It’s Wall Streets fault.

    BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — Jefferson County, facing $4.23 billion in debt and running short of cash, gave up Wednesday on reaching a deal with its creditors and immediately filed the largest government bankruptcy in U.S. history.

    The 4-1 vote to seek protection under Chapter 9 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code came on the 365th day since the current commission took office. That year was dominated by sometimes frantic negotiations with Wall Street banks that over the past decade loaned and refinanced more debt than the county had the ability to repay.

    The largest creditor is JPMorgan Chase & Co., which owns about $1 billion of the county’s $3.14 billion debt for sewer construction. Besides the sewer debt, the county owes $814 million in school-construction debt and another $305 million in general-obligation warrants.

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