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Feds, Ga. officials ponder high-speed rail routes to Charlotte

Plans to build a high-speed rail line between Charlotte and Atlanta could cut at least an hour from the trip, but first officials need to decide on a route and find money.

The Georgia Department of Transportation and the Federal Railroad Administration are considering six rail routes for the potential line.

“At this point, there is no preferred alternative,” said GDOT Project Manager Derrick Cameron. “Alternatives can be modified based on the environmental process.”

Three of the six routes would follow existing rail lines, avoid the cost of buying right of way. But those routes would take longer.

Two of the options would run along right of way of existing highways.

Trains could go as fast as 220 mph under a new railroad alignment option. Trains would only travel at up to 79 mph if existing tracks are used.

At the fastest, the current 5 1/2-hour trip could be reduced to just over two hours. Other options might cut the trip by only an hour.

Transportation and railroad officials have now held three public meetings about the options for the proposed rail line, including one Thursday in Charlotte.

Cameron said feedback from the preliminary meetings has generally been positive. He said they should have an idea of which route would work best by summer 2015.

GDOT and FRA do not yet have funding secured, and it’s not clear how much it will cost.

Route options:

Norfolk Southern

This route would share Norfolk Southern rail routes heading to Atlanta. If new tracks are built next to the current ones, trains could run up to 110 mph, but if current tracks are used, trains would only travel up to 79 mph.

Advantages: Serves a large population and heavy employment.

Disadvantages: Longer travel time.

CSX Athens

This route would share current CSX rail routes that pass through Athens on the way to Atlanta. With new tracks, trains could travel at up to 110 mph, but if current tracks are used, trains would only run up to 79 mph.

Advantages: Serves a large population and heavy employment.

Disadvantages: High travel time and very few connections to other types of transportation, such as airports.

CSX Augusta

This route would share CSX routes passing through Columbia and Augusta heading to Atlanta. With new tracks, trains could travel at up to 110 mph, but with current tracks, trains would only run up to 79 mph.

Advantages: Serves a large population.

Disadvantages: Long travel time, few connections to other types of transportation.

I-85

Tracks would be dedicated to passenger rails built on land that the North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia departments of transportation already own.

Advantages: Serves a large population and heavy employment and short route.

Disadvantages: Longer travel time than building a new route.

I-20 and I-77

Tracks would be dedicated to passenger rails built on land that the departments of transportation own.

Advantages: Serves a large population.

Disadvantages: Long route and travel time.

Greenfield

This option is a completely new railroad alignment. An express train on this route could reach speeds of up to 220 mph.

Advantages: Short travel time and large population served.

Disadvantages: Requires the purchase of new land that could include private property.

Haggerty: 704-358-6180
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