All Aboard The Train To Nowhere!

So, you know that rail project that was fast-tracked to go in to “the Gulch” in Atlanta?  Stefan talked about it before in his piece supporting the new Falcon’s stadium, and Charlie predicted that we would have a station there regardless if we got a train or a stadium.  Looks like Charlie will be winning that bet (not sure what the bet was, but I’m sure one of the front pagers will be buying him a drink and/or BBQ plate at the next road show or BBQ Tour stop).

Atlanta is getting a train station come hell or high water.  However, Norfolk Southern is adamant that they will not be able to build passenger rail inside the perimeter.  From this morning’s Atlanta Business Chronicle:

In a letter to the DOT, obtained by WXIA-TV, Norfolk Southern was blunt:

“There is insufficient available Norfolk Southern right-of-way in and about the City of Atlanta, (generally inside the Interstate 285 Perimeter) to add passenger service.”

What’s GDOT’s response?  “We don’t need no stinkin’ trains!  We’ve got this:”

“If rail was behind and MMPT [multi-modal passenger terminal] had to launch with pedestrian options, bike options, car options, bus options that’s not a loss for us, rail will come later,” said GDOT’s Natalie Dale.

So, why the big push?  Secret plans for the Gulch?  Agenda 21?  Stimulus/recovery jobs?  Stupid government tricks?

Discuss.

22 comments

  1. NewnanYankee says:

    This could just be a shake-down from NS. There are capacity issues through-out the state. Particularly on the coveted Macon-Savannah stretch. There are also places on key freight routes that don’t allow for double-stacking of container loads. Get the state to fund/back some capacity upgrades and let’s see where this goes. Additionally, NS might be fishing to get support to beef up multi-modal yards outside the perimeter. These never have local buy-in due to the traffic they cause, but if the state gets behind some of this, who knows?

    • saltycracker says:

      Railroads don’t need taxpayer money for upgrades, they might need some regulation changes to allow them options to do their thing.

      • NewnanYankee says:

        No, they don’t have to use taxpayer funding for upgrades, but freight traffic is at all time highs. So, NS and CSX want a bit more from the state if they are going to share their rails.

        To be candid, I do think the MMPT would be a good way to consolidate the mixed bag of transit systems in Atlanta. I also think that commuter rail could work in metro Atlanta as well. Funding, of course, is the key issue.

        • greencracker says:

          +1 NewnanYankee.
          I bet NS is … “negotiating.”
          How about this, how is the NS line from Atl to Sav going to handle an expanded port of Savannah? I know they have that new siding in McIntyre, but I dont know enough about it to know if that’s sufficient.
          ?And — who would run said passenger rail? Not NS, I wouldn’t think, that’s not their line of work. I would think Amtrak or some other rail operator would have to lease usage of NS track. That’s valuable track for NS.

        • Dave Bearse says:

          On most lines the passenger rail authority would build an additional track more or less for much of the length of passenger train operations. The freight operator gets use of the additional track when freight use doesn’t conflict with passenger use as part of it payment toward maintenance.

  2. saltycracker says:

    Key words: blighted area – our government’s password for implementing either tax subsidies or imminent domain whichever gets the politicians what they want.

  3. seenbetrdayz says:

    I asked a friend of mine who works for NS why they don’t get involved in passenger service, and he replied that liability is much higher with passenger rail. If a train hauling lumber or grain overturns, oh well. But a train hauling people? That’s a bit more costly.

    The government is really gonna have to make it worth the risk. Freight doesn’t sue, people do.

    • Dave Bearse says:

      It’s not just the freight overturning. On busy lines it’s freight overturning adjacent to a passenger train, or overturning and then being struck by a fast passenger train before a passenger train can be stopped.

  4. They probably want to go ahead and build the station so they don’t run into the bookended version of the problem 15 years from now which goes something like “well rail could come here but nobody planned on building the station so we’re out of luck.”

    Or you know, the other problem being that if they don’t build it and make it part of the plan, it could be exponentially more expensive to incorporate it at a later date or have to put it in a less ideal location because where they wanted to put it (or where it made sense to put it) is now something else.

  5. sockpuppet says:

    So, this makes 5 big infrastructure projects underway or in the serious planning stages that will predominantly benefit Atlanta.
    1. the stadium
    2. this project
    3. the streetcar
    4. I-285/400 interchange
    5. Continuing expansions at Hartsfield (some big projects by the city as well as by Delta)
    And that doesn’t include the ongoing Beltline or the College Football Hall of Fame. Or that Reed and Deal are determined to get the Savannah port taken care of and connect the port and Hartsfield with freight rail (though Deal won’t talk about the latter until safely re-elected). Looks like the city didn’t lose squat from T-SPLOST going down in flames.

    Meanwhile, what big infrastructure projects are planned or in the works elsewhere? Hmmm … you’d have to tell me.

    The best part is that items #2, #3 and #4 will come at practically no cost to the city. Item #5 will come from the revenue that Hartsfield generates itself. And item #1, the city is only kicking in 20% of the costs, and even that is coming from a revenue source that Atlanta cannot use for anything else. The CFHOF is being paid for mostly with private funds, so that leaves the Beltline, and even that is attracting significant private support.

    So it looks like Atlanta is getting the projects that it really needs without the T-SPLOST and is better off without it. The rest of the metro area, though? It remains to be seen.

    • Rambler14 says:

      “Looks like the city didn’t lose squat from T-SPLOST going down in flames.”

      The biggest chance in the direction of Transportation for the State since TSPLOST went down in flames

      is that instead of projects moving forward that were proposed and voted on by groups of elected officials from across the entire state, the Governor and Toby Carr get to make the final call on everything.

      • sockpuppet says:

        Keep in mind, the mayor of Atlanta heavily supported T-SPLOST and invested a lot of political capital in it despite A) it was a Republican idea created by a Republican governor and legislature (and yes it was backed by Deal until Deal stepped away to preserve his political future) and B) it provided questionable benefit to Atlanta and C) it was heavily opposed by much of Reed’s base because of A and B. Also, despite A, B and C, T-SPLOST passed in the city of Atlanta. It looks like the governor and the GDOT getting to run everything is a great deal, because the governor’s policy clearly seems to be that revitalizing downtown Atlanta is key to getting the state moving again. Not the message that the folks in the suburbs and the rural areas who voted for him want to hear and he isn’t exactly screaming it from the rooftops, but that is clearly how he is governing, from his support of the stadium project to his transportation agenda to even his intervening in the DeKalb school board case (using its importance to the metro and state economy as his justification.

        Then again, look at it another way. If Atlanta starts bustling again and its population starts growing, that might change the demographics and give the GOP a shot at running city hall, or at least having a sizable presence on the city council. Think about it …

    • Charlie says:

      “So, this makes 5 big infrastructure projects underway or in the serious planning stages that will predominantly benefit Atlanta.”

      OK, in your list and comments, you’re blending “Atlanta” and “metro Atlanta”.

      “Metro Atlanta” now contains more than half the state’s population. And you leave off the expansion of the port of Savannah in your major projects list (not anywhere near Atlanta), which the Mayor of “Atlanta” is doing most of the heavy lifting to accomplish.

      Then you mention things like “continued expansions at Hartsfield”. How much Georgia tax dollars are going for that? That would be $0. It’s landing fees and federal grants (matching), but mostly landing fees.

      The stadium? You know I’m no fan, but that’s mostly (not all, despite the talking points) hotel motel taxes from the City of Atlanta (a lot more than the sticker of $200M, but still ATL money). Were it not a stadium, it could be Beltline transit or many other projects on the wishlist. But it would still be money generated in Atlanta spent in Atlanta.

      “this project” Again, this is a local boondoggle mostly. I don’t believe there’s a lot (if any) state involvement in building a spec office tower in downtown ATL.

      “the streetcar” – More city money with matching federal tax dollars. I don’t think the state is involved at all.

      “the I-285/400 interchange” – Not in the City. One of the biggest transportation bottlenecks in the state, messing up the biggest choke point in the region that has more than half the state’s population. And is among the fastest growing regions in the nation. Seems legit.

      So, to recap. As usual, there’s a lot of money being spent in Atlanta by dollars raised in Atlanta, and someone not from Atlanta has prosperity envy.

      Atlanta may squander some of its resources. But don’t be jealous that they have resources that your low tax/low infrastructure areas don’t.

  6. sockpuppet says:

    @NewnanYankee:

    “I do think the MMPT would be a good way to consolidate the mixed bag of transit systems in Atlanta.”

    See the comment by Hassinger and reply by griftdrift above. “Partially correct ( to be kind ). It’s still not a “MARTA” station.”

    I noted in the AJC that pains were taken to mention that this WAS NOT going to be owned by MARTA. That the governor’s office and the GDOT were running the entire deal, and that MARTA, the city of Atlanta and Fulton County were being cut out of the deal. Combine that with the transit agency that the state DOES own – GRTA – and there you have it. This MMPT gets the state into the city of Atlanta without having to deal with MARTA. So all the transportation projects that the state wants to do in order to connect the city to the suburbs could feed into there. Logistically it might be tougher because you would actually have to bypass potential MARTA points of connection in DeKalb and North Fulton to get to the MMPT, but it would overcome the political resistance – the real barrier – in places like Cobb and Gwinnett.

    Of course, the big joke is that MARTA would hook into the MMPT also, and folks coming in from the suburbs into the MMPT would still have to ride MARTA to their final destination. But that would solve the problem of being able to come to MARTA without having MARTA come to you (or you having to pay for MARTA). It would also give the state and the suburban counties a stake in MARTA’s operations and upkeep incidentally. All in all, not a bad deal, even if it is a backdoor way of accomplishing what needs to be done anyway.

  7. Dave Bearse says:

    Unlike OTP, the issue ITP is the lack of available RR ROW. Sure there are freight capacity constraints and small bottlenecks in various places outstate. However, ~90% of the Georgia freight railroad system OTP is single track railroad system (with passing sidings of course, say 75+% two tracks or less). The typical Georgia railroad ROW is 100′ wide, so there’s generally sufficient ROW for a passenger operation to build additional trackage in the boonies.

    Take a look north from the Ivan Allen Blvd overpass at the five tracks leading from downtown to Tilford (CSXT) and Inman (NS) Yards. One additional track could be shoehorned in. Check out the multiple tracks alongside the MARTA northeast, east or south lines when next riding MARTA. There’s little room to build additional tracks in part because highways and MARTA have already taken ROW. (A lot of highway ROW is actually on a permanent easement from a railroad.)

    One of the reasons prospective new intercity passenger routes gravitate to freight rail lines is that the freight lines secured the best alignments (typically the flattest with fewest waterway crossings) the topography had to offer. (Overlay maps of watersheds and the Georgia rail system on each other and it’s clear most rail routes follow watershed boundaries, intrabasin if not interbasin—NS’ Barnesville-Atlanta segment for instance is very nearly on the boundary between the Chattahoochee and Ocmulgee watersheds, there’s no more than a half dozen significant culverts along the entire segment.

  8. fuzzypeach777 says:

    This is the same thing that I have said all along. There is simply no more room, short of demolition of lineside structures for additional tracks at CP(…Control Point)-“SPRING”. Current congestion, even with the economic downturn, leaves no space for passenger moves. This is especially the case where these train would have make crossover moves from one track to the other to enter/leave the proposed station.

    Crew shortages require staging of inbound trains all along this area. If you doubt this, observe how many times you see a stopped train when you cross the Spring Street overpass. Those trains are waiting for an outbound crew to depart Atlanta. You can be sure there are other trains in front and behind the one you see, also waiting for relief crews.

    The statement was made that “rerouting” of this traffic could be done to accommodate the passenger service. That statement is laughable. There is simply is no place for it to go. Norfolk Southern’s primary route to Florida passes right through Atlanta. The Georgia Division “C” line district from CP-“GREEN” south of Rome down through Cedartown, Bremen, Carrollton, Senoia and Griffin is long since out of service past Senoia. Flooding in 1994 destroyed the Line creek trestle near Brooks Georgia and the route was not restored. It would require many millions to restore service and upgrade the track to withstand a vast increase in tonnage. NS has no interest in doing this or they would have already done it.

    Many mass transit proponents look at other cities and their rail systems and wonder why Atlanta can’t have the same. Cities such as NYC, Chicago and Los Angeles once supported a vast intercity rail passenger service. It was easy to leverage these facilities and infrastructure to commuter service. Atlanta never had the same level of infrastructure in the first place and what there was disappeared in the 1970’s.

    A more reasonable approach would be to use the existent MARTA facilities and run the commuter service onto MARTA trackage when it approaches downtown Atlanta. MARTA’s double track could easily accommodate these trains with relatively minor modifications. No one seems to be interested in that solution however.

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