Amtrak future encourages Howell's transportation group

By TIM SINIARD
Posted 1/21/20

All aboard! Travelers may have the opportunity to "choo-choo" from Chattanooga to Nashville or Atlanta if Amtrak and state officials come to an agreement over a proposed passenger rail line …

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Amtrak future encourages Howell's transportation group

Posted

All aboard! Travelers may have the opportunity to "choo-choo" from Chattanooga to Nashville or Atlanta if Amtrak and state officials come to an agreement over a proposed passenger rail line connecting the three cities.

If everything falls into place, the proposed Atlanta to Nashville rail line, which would include a stop in Chattanooga, could potentially begin by mid-decade.

According to Tennessee state Rep. Dan Howell (R-Cleveland), a hearing between Amtrak and Tennessee legislators took place in Nashville recently to discuss the plan.

The hearing was attended by Amtrak officials, Howell, Tennessee Department of Transportation Commissioner Clay Bright and Tennessee state Sen. Becky Duncan Massey (R-Knoxville), who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee in Nashville.

“It was a follow-up to meetings that also took place in December,” said Howell,  who is chairman of the Tennessee House of Representatives' Transportation Committee. “Prior to the hearing, we also had a meeting with Gov. [Bill] Lee on the issue.” 

Howell said he felt there was sufficient interest in the subject to warrant a hearing with the full House Transportation Committee.

“As I explained in my remarks to the committee, the purpose was to begin the process of gathering information about possible routes, potential ridership and financial commitments, as well as an overview of how the state would need to be involved,” Howell said.

Amtrak official Ray Lang explained during the hearing presentation that seven states are currently under contract with Amtrak and that ridership is increasing, especially in the more populated areas, "which would fit the profile of Nashville, Memphis and Chattanooga, with some potential stops along the route, in such cities as Jackson, Murfreesboro and Tullahoma."

Howell said he feels the plan has promise.

"But I recognize it is a long-range goal and greatly depends upon congressional approval of the upcoming [United States Congress] Surface Transportation Bill, possibly in March or May,” Howell said. “If that bill is approved, Amtrak will provide us with additional information on how a potential grant program would work to assist states with upgrades to the railroad infrastructure.”

Howell said he is hopeful and grateful for the support the idea has received from other members of the Tennessee General Assembly.

The potential rail service will take some time to implement, according to Howell.

“There are a lot of moving parts, and it could take three to five years to bring it together,” he said. “But we have to start somewhere, and with the population growth we are seeing in Tennessee, and increased pressure on our roadways, I believe Amtrak could be a great piece of the puzzle in giving people options as they travel from place to place.”

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