This public outreach forum was part of the early stages for planning a rail link between downtown Chattanooga and Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta. Cartersville was the last of 43 public information sessions held in communities along the proposed routes.
Current recommendations have the route following the Interstate 75 corridor, passing through Bartow County with a proposed station in Cartersville. A projected completion date is estimated for 2020, but public input and questions were taken Thursday as a part of an initial study.
"We expect the study to be done by 2012 and the project itself will be done by 2020, but this is long-range and these are just estimates," said Mohammed Arafa, GDOT communications specialist. "If things go as planned, it will be funded by our public-private partnership program."
The public-private partnership program was launched earlier this year to offset costs by selling advertising and sponsorships. Project construction costs are estimated between $6 and $9 billion.
Initial research was done for 18 alignments along the 120 miles between Atlanta and Chattanooga narrowing the selection to four options. Factors, including environmental, social and economic impact, performance, mobility, travel time and ridership, were all assessed for possible routes. Through various studies, a cost-benefit analysis was conducted for each alignment before determining the best possible routes.
The 18 alignments were formed from a combination of nine corridors utilizing existing utility easements, freight rail lines and interstate corridors. The final four options selected follow the Interstate 75 corridor to the perimeter bringing the proposed rail line through Cartersville. The proposed routes include a limited number of stops to reduce commute times, one of which -- seen on each route -- is suggested to land in Cartersville.
"We firmly believe that there will be a station here in Cartersville. The project will definitely serve, among others, the people of Bartow County," Arafa said. "With high-speed rail you can not have too many stops."
High speed ground transportation is defined as modes of travel reaching at least 180 mph, this high speed rail line will utilize either high-speed steel-wheeled trains running at 220 mph or Maglev Lines reaching a top operational speed of 310 mph.
The Maglev, uses electromagnetic forces to propel trains levitating slightly above the guide-rails. Although the technology and use of Maglev devices to transport people has been around for decades, only Shanghai, China, operates a high-speed Maglev train for public transport.
High-speed, steel-wheeled trains operate throughout Europe and Asia. An overhead electrical wire propels the train capable of operating on the same track as other trains -- as opposed to Maglev Lines requiring a dedicated guide-rail.
Either option will offer a transportation option regarded as superior for its advantages in noise reduction, emission levels, airport access, congestion alleviation and increased connectivity among others.
"If you look at ground transportation and high speed rail as it's developed in Europe and Southeast Asia, if it were developed in the United States and particularly in the Southeast U.S., it would put us on a major transportational link between Atlanta and Chattanooga and having a stop there would spur additional economic growth, so it would be a great thing for us," said Sam Grove, Cartersville City Manager.
Commenting on the possible economic impacts that would come with a commuter rail station in Cartersville, Executive Director of the Cartersville-Bartow County Department of Economic Development Melinda Lemmon shared a common rule of thumb for the economic development industry.
"Progress follows roads and schools and utility infrastructure. So with this kind of transportation access coupled with what we already have to offer with the interstate and other federal and state highways, we have an exceptional location. And so I think it will have a big impact, it will take a while to get there but it will have a significant impact," Lemmon said.
The idea behind a high-speed commuter rail line linking Atlanta and Chattanooga has been present for quite some time, a public meeting similar to Thursday's was held in October 1998, inspiring a feature article detailing the proposal in the Sunday, Dec. 6, 1998, issue of The Daily Tribune News.
Federal stimulus money was awarded in January from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 in the amount of $8 billion for high-speed rail projects throughout the country. Although California alone received more than $2 billion and many states were awarded hundreds of millions of dollars, Georgia was one of nine states receiving a total pot of $6 million for planning.
With plans now to fund the project through other means, GDOT will continue planning with further studies to make a final route selection and detail the project. Lemmon noted the resurgence of a high-speed rail project, adding that her department will keep an eye on progression doing what they can to match resources and maximize opportunities when the time comes.
"It's a big project and there are a lot of things that are potentially challenging to overcome to get this project to fruition," Lemmon said. "I know that this is a project that was heavily discussed over a decade ago and was even talking about going through Cartersville at that point in time. I know there will be a limited number of stops out of consideration to get passengers back and forth quickly and I think Cartersville is a logical place for a station to be."
For more information, visit www.atl-chatt.org. Although Thursday's meeting was the last public session, those wishing add input on the project may submit a comment online by visiting www.atl-chatt.org, selecting the public involvement link and choosing 'contact us' at the top of the page.