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Federal dollars flow to study Georgia rail projects

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(The Center Square) — The federal government has awarded $1.5 million to study the possibility of running passenger trains on a trio of corridors in Georgia.

The Federal Railroad Administration awarded $500,000 to the Georgia Department of Transportation to study a possible Atlanta-to-Savannah line. It also provided $500,000 to the North Carolina Department of Transportation to evaluate a Charlotte-to-Atlanta line and $500,000 to the city of Chattanooga to study an Atlanta-to-Chattanooga-to-Nashville-to-Memphis route.

“There aren’t many places in America whose history is as closely tied to rail travel as Chattanooga’s, and today’s announcement is a promising sign that the railroad will continue to be an important part of our future,” Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly said in a Facebook post.

The Atlanta-to-Charlotte route would be a high-speed line where trains would “operate at speeds of up to 186 mph or greater” on a “new high-speed rail alignment.” The Atlanta-to-Savannah and Atlanta-to-Chattanooga-to-Nashville-to-Memphis connections would be conventional rail links where trains would operate between 79 mph and 125 mph on existing or new alignments.

The Atlanta-to-Savannah line would explore “potential intermediate stops” in Athens, Augusta and Macon. The Charlotte-to-Atlanta line would similarly explore stops in Augusta and Athens; it would also include a downtown Atlanta station and terminate at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta.

“This is a long-term project that will require cooperation and strong execution at all levels of government, but it has the potential to unlock huge gains in mobility and quality of life for Georgians,” U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Georgia, said in a statement.

According to a Friday announcement, the money is from the fiscal 2022 Corridor Identification and Development Award.

Rail projects are nothing new to Georgia. Multiple projects have been discussed over the years, including between Atlanta and Lovejoy and the “Brain Train” between Athens and Atlanta.

A previous FRA grant covers the cost of a service development plan for the Atlanta-to-Savannah route, and the FRA said it considers the first step of the process to be complete. A Georgia Department of Transportation spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.

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