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DOT updating state rail plan
Hall plays a role, with its varied rail operations
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The Georgia Department of Transportation is updating the state’s long-range rail plan, which affects Hall County, with its heavy freight traffic, Amtrak passenger service and proposed commuter and passenger rail lines.

The tracks running through Hall make up Norfolk Southern’s main line between Atlanta and cities north, such as Charlotte, N.C., and Richmond, Va., said Tim Evans, the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce’s vice president of economic development.

“It’s a major transportation corridor,” he said. “And it does help take volume off the road network and move goods more cost-efficiently, and there are a number of industries served by rail in Hall.”

In addition to a forecast of rail usage through 2040, the plan also will “provide comprehensive industry data,” DOT officials said.

And it will fold into other planning documents, including the Georgia Statewide Transportation Plan.

“The plan will articulate (Georgia’s) vision for freight and passenger rail services,” a news release from the agency states.

It will include a description of the state rail network, related transportation and economic impacts, and a proposed program of investments in the rail system.

The DOT plans to meet with railroads, shippers, ports, transit agencies, transportation planners and transportation officials in neighboring states.

The agency held public hearings last week in Dalton, Atlanta and Valdosta.

During a second round of meetings expected in the fall, DOT officials will present plan recommendations and seek further public comment, officials said.

The new rail plan is set for release in December. The last plan was released in 2009.

The DOT’s public presentation shows one of Atlanta’s potential commuter routes running to Gainesville, a 53-mile ride. Other destinations around the city are Athens, Madison, Macon, Senoia, Bremen and Canton.

Hall County also factors into the Atlanta to Charlotte Passenger Rail Corridor Investment Plan project, which the DOT is leading on behalf of the Federal Railroad Administration.

Last year, the DOT held public hearings on the effort to address “connectivity to proposed and existing passenger rail stations, airports and other regional transportation services along the corridor,” officials said at the time.

Officials also have said they 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, as well as Gainesville. Amtrak has a passenger station at 116 Industrial Blvd.

“We’re still very much in an environmental process where we look at the pros and cons of each of those lines,” DOT spokeswoman Natalie Dale said.

Passenger rail is mentioned in Hall’s 2040 Metropolitan Transportation Plan, a long-range planning document released in August 2011.

Projected congested roadways suggest more money will be needed for alternate modes of transportation, such as express buses and commuter rail, “to further improve mobility options,” the report states.

The Gainesville-Hall Metropolitan Planning Organization, Hall’s lead transportation planning agency, plans to update the plan — as required by federal law — by August 2015.

Srikanth Yamala, the MPO’s director, said he expects the agency will continue to address rail as it updates the plan.