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Public input on railway plan set to end Saturday

Proposed passenger route is between Charlotte and Atlanta

POSTED: July 2, 2013 12:35 a.m.

The first round of public comment on possible passenger rail service between Atlanta and Charlotte, N.C., is coming to a close.

The Georgia Department of Transportation will accept input through Saturday, then shut off what is known as “public scoping” for the project, which has as one of its potential routes a Norfolk Southern railroad corridor that cuts through Hall County.

Those interested can post comments online at a website set up about the project, email them to a project address or mail them to Glenn Bowman at the DOT’s Office of Environmental Services.

Once the process is finished, “we will review and respond to all of the comment via response letters that will be mailed out,” said Jill Goldberg, the DOT’s deputy press secretary, on Monday.

The DOT is leading the Atlanta to Charlotte Passenger Rail Corridor Investment Plan project on behalf of the Federal Railroad Administration.

Efforts to collect public opinion included public information meetings in Suwanee in North Gwinnett County, Greer, S.C., and Charlotte in early June. According to the DOT, the Suwanee meeting drew 70 people; Greer, 72; and Charlotte, 40.

The public process “will address connectivity to proposed and existing passenger rail stations, airports and other regional transportation services along the corridor,” DOT officials have said.

The project particularly will consider connectivity to the proposed Georgia Multi Modal Passenger Terminal and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta, and the proposed Charlotte Gateway Station and Charlotte-Douglas International Airport.

There are six potential corridor route alternatives, including one stretching along Interstate 85 through Northeast Georgia and another that extends as far east as Augusta, then travels northeast to Columbia, S.C., before heading north to Charlotte.

The trains would be electricity or diesel-powered, or both, depending on several factors, including which route is selected and whether the passenger rail system would share the track with current freight operations.

Officials have said they also may decide not to pursue any alternatives, allowing Amtrak to maintain current and future plans for its Crescent rail service between New York and New Orleans and running through Atlanta, according to a DOT document on the project.

Amtrak, which began service in 1971 as result of a congressional act, has a station at 116 Industrial Blvd., Gainesville.

“The public ... really does help shape projects like this,” DOT spokeswoman Natalie Dale has said. “If we build a route that no one’s going to get on, we haven’t done much to serve the public or wisely use (taxpayer) money.”

The possibility of passenger rail service, including a possible route through Hall, isn’t a new concept.

It even has been embraced as part of an Oakwood planning document that envisions how the city’s downtown area might look by 2030.

Oakwood City Manager Stan Brown said he attended the Suwanee meeting, leaving comments “regarding our desire to see Norfolk Southern as the preferred alternative and that we would support a station at our location.”

“This is the continuation of a lengthy process,” he added. “We will continue to track the status.”

Srikanth Yamala, director of the Gainesville-Hall Metropolitan Planning Organization, Hall’s lead transportation planning agency, said the MPO was invited by the Federal Railroad Administration to participate in the environmental review process for the project.

The goals and objectives in the MPO’s 2040 Metropolitan Transportation Plan “overwhelmingly support the purpose and need for the passenger rail,” with the MPO especially supporting the Norfolk Southern alternative, he said.

Gordon Kenna, chief executive officer of Macon-based Georgians for Passenger Rail, declined to comment on preferred routes.

“I think it’s more important that the state have a position that is taken seriously in this, and that really means having a better financial position,” he said.

“Our state was a huge influence in developing the rail network 100 years ago, but basically for the last 60 years, we haven’t made any kind of serious commitment to rail. And we need to do that, both in freight and passenger rail.”

The DOT expects to select a preferred alternative in mid-2014, followed by another round of public hearings and public comments, the DOT states on its website.

By mid-2015, The Federal Railroad Administration is expected to sign a Record of Decision, which details “agreed-upon mitigation strategies and project commitments to be carried” in a second tier of environmental analysis, according to the DOT.


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