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Atlanta Commuter Rail Plans back on?

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State pushes rail to Lovejoy

DOT pursues $106 million plan

By DUANE D. STANFORD

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The state Transportation Department has asked Gov. Sonny Perdue to approve a $106 million plan to open a commuter rail line from Atlanta to Lovejoy in south Clayton County by mid-2006.

The governor, who earlier this year said he had doubts about the state's stalled commuter rail program, is expected to decide soon.

If Perdue says yes to the plan, work could begin immediately on the 26-mile line, the first step toward a long-awaited Macon line.

In a Nov. 12 letter to Perdue, Transportation Commissioner Harold Linnenkohl said the state had $87 million in state and federal funds on hand to buy refurbished trains, upgrade and lay track and build platforms. The state would use an additional $19 million in state roadway funds to build park-and-ride lots and install crossing signals.

The state would upgrade track owned by Norfolk Southern Railroad but not buy it outright. The railroad would continue to use the track for freight operations.

The commuter rail plan, obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution under the state Open Records Act, includes a scaled-down version of the multimodal passenger terminal proposed for downtown Atlanta. There would be two covered platforms, direct access to the Five Points MARTA rail station, and a pedestrian walkway to Philips Arena.

The line could be ready for passengers within 2 1/2 years, Linnenkohl wrote. The train would stop in East Point, Forest Park, Morrow and Jonesboro, and travel at speeds of up to 60 miles per hour. The 46-minute trip to Lovejoy would cost $5.60 one way, according to the plan.

"This would provide service to approximately 50 percent of the riders that would use the service if it went completely to Macon," Linnenkohl wrote.

The department estimates the line would carry 1,800 passengers a day initially, and more than 3,000 passengers a day by 2009. The 770,000 trips per year would take enough automobiles off the road to eliminate 3,200 hours of highway delay for motorists, the plan estimates.

For two decades, leaders in communities along proposed commuter rail lines to Macon, Athens and other major Georgia cities have dreamed of the economic development opportunities such passenger trains could bring.

"This is terrific," said Forest Park city manager Bill Werner after learning of the proposal. "It's going to help us revitalize our commercial areas, our Main Street."

State Transportation Board member Emory McClinton of Atlanta, a rail advocate, sees the trains as a way to get commuters out of the cars that clog metro Atlanta's roads and pollute its air.

"It's time that we put a commitment to that program or abandon it," he said Thursday.

State legislators have been hesitant to fund the program, which would require heavy operating subsidies from the state. The Lovejoy line would cost about $25 million to operate through 2009, according to the proposal. Fares are expected to cover 30 percent to 40 percent of the cost. The rest would come mostly from federal funding set aside to combat air pollution in metro Atlanta.

Rail proponents have pointed out that highway operations and maintenance are subsidized as well, but the argument has been slow to catch on.

Transportation Board members got their first look at the plan at their monthly meeting Thursday. It was handed out quietly but not discussed. At the board's breakfast meeting earlier, Linnenkohl hinted at the Lovejoy proposal during an update on commuter rail.

"I've been in dialogue with the governor's office and have been trying to get some buy-in to move that program forward," he said.

After seeing the proposal, board member Mike Evans of Cumming crunched a few numbers on his cellphone calculator, trying to get a handle on just what the state would have to spend.

"Do the math," Evans said. "I don't want to do something just because we've got the money."

Board member David Doss of Rome also was skeptical. "Someone's just going to have to convince me the ridership is going to justify the investment," he said.

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How could anyone be against brining much-needed commuter rail to a region as huge and sprawling as metro Atlanta. Unbelievalble.

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How could anyone be against brining much-needed commuter rail to a region as huge and sprawling as metro Atlanta. Unbelievalble.

Although I disagree those that oppose commuter rail, it would be a cost vs. value thing. I also think they are starting with the wrong line, although they did have express bus service on that corridor and without advertising the buses were packed.

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Boston is rebuilding commuter lines that were closed in the 1950's. They have met with alot of success in spite of the Big Dig and other highway projects.

If I commuted I would love to take the train in town because its so comfortable. I use the train to go see the Celtics. The transit authority should find a way to subsidize those expensive fares. Boston is alot cheaper than that and you can park for $2 at most commuter stations making the whole trip pretty cheap...cheaper than driving.

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5.60 is a little high, and my biggest problem with their commuter rail plan is the very limited hours the train will run. It basically runs 7-9am and 4-6pm with maybe a couple of trains in the morning and a couple in the afternoon. Very disappointing, although something to begin with.

I'm also amazed that they are not going with the Atlanta-Athens line first. The corridor is heavily built out already for the first half, and the second half has a lot of undeveloped areas that could lead to smarter development. There is also a few hundred thousand more residents already living withing a resonable distance of the potential commuter rail line.

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They should build these lines now while the right of ways are still avialable and not too expensive. They will be needed in the future for sure.

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Tocoto, right a way shouldn't be a problem, since they plan to use existing rail lines owned by Norfolk Southern.

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This is better than doing nothing. And it is good to see it back on track, but the lines that are neede the most are the ones to the NE and NW (Athens and Cartersville). I'd also build one from Conyers as well.

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What can happen to the right of way when thet arent' used much or at all is new towns/cities pop up around them. Some are torn up if they aren't used. When they are needed, NIMBYS are living there to say it's too loud, etc. Costs go way up and development of the rail line becomes difficult and slow.

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What can happen to the right of way when thet arent' used much or at all is new towns/cities pop up around them. Some are torn up if they aren't used. When they are needed, NIMBYS are living there to say it's too loud, etc. Costs go way up and development of the rail line becomes difficult and slow.

Weymouth? Hingham? :lol:

I ocassionally have to ride the commuter rail from Providence to Boston for work. It is a wonderful commute. About an hour and only $5.75 (going to $6 in January). All of my co-workers drive when they have to go to the Boston office and inevitably have horror stories about the trip. Meanwhile I sit in a comfy seat and read or nap. :P

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Some of Toronto's commuter rail lines only run during rush hours (into downtown in the morning, back to the suburbs in the evening), while other run all day in both directions until after midnight 7 days a week.

For the lines that only go during rush hours though, they have buses that run the same routes during non-rush-hours. Because they are running in off-hours, they usually don't get stuck in traffic, and aren't much slower than that trains.

They would be wise to run buses every hour there isn't a train.

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Honestly, I never thought about it. But I can see how you would supplment express buses for lower volume times to keep costs down and still provide the service. Hopefully that is what they intend to do.

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It would be extra important in Atlanta because from what I've read some of Atlanta's suburbs don't even have local public transit. If you don't have buses during hours the train isn't running it greatly limits the attractiveness of the system. What if your boss tells you to take the rest of the day off at noon? Are you going to stick around 4+ hours for the train home? What if your co-workers invite you out for drinks after work? Are you going to be stuck with a $50 cab ride to get home?

Commuters need to know that they can leave work early or late and not be stuck downtown.

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The core 5 counties all have bus service, although that's it. And 2 of the counties, Gwinnett and Clayton have very limited bus service. That was my biggest concern with their original plan, it made no reference to alternative bush service and only 4 or so trains a day running only during rush hour.

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