The Federal Railroad Administration and the Georgia Department of Transportation have chosen a route for high speed rail linking Atlanta and Charlotte, N.C., that passes through Athens, rejecting two alternate routes that bypassed the area.
The proposed 274-mile route will be fully separated from the existing roadway and railroad transportation systems, and it will be on a new dedicated right of way for most of its distance.
The route does not pass through Oconee County, but the inclusion of Athens as a “station opportunity” would provide potential rail links for the area with downtown Atlanta and Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
In an announcement of the decision, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) said that exact alignment configurations and station locations have not been determined.
The Atlanta to Charlotte corridor is an extension of the Southeast High-Speed Rail corridor, as designated by the U.S. Department of Transportation, according to the web announcement on July 9.
The Southeast High-Speed Rail (SEHSR) corridor will connect Atlanta with Washington, D.C., and, via the Northeast Corridor, with Boston.
“Funding to build this part of the SEHSR has not yet been fully identified,” according to the announcement.
Other Details of Plans
Two alternate routes from west of Athens to Atlanta will be considered, the southern going through Lawrenceville and Tucker and the northern route through Suwanee and Doraville.
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The selected Atlanta-To-Charlotte route labeled the Greenfield option, connects Athens to the east with Anderson, Greenville-Spartansburg International Airport, Gastonia, Charlotte Douglas International Airport, and Charlotte.
Trains on the selected route could use either diesel or electric propulsion technology, according to the news release.
End-to-end travel time on the route would be 2 hours and 44 minutes with diesel, traveling at 125 miles per hour, and 2 hours and six minutes with electric, traveling at 220 miles per hour.
Annual ridership is projected at 5.38 million to 6.3 million.
Capital cost is estimated at $6.2 billion to $8.4 billion.
Local transportation planners made a presentation of three possible routes for the Charlotte to Atlanta corridor in late 2019 at a meeting of MACORTS, the regional transportation planning authority that includes Oconee County.
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GDOT sought public comment on those options.
The first route, identified as the Crescent, ran far north through Taccoa and Gainesville on its way to Atlanta.
The second route, called Interstate 85, followed that highway.
The third route, labeled Greenfield, was the only one that passed through Athens.
The maps released show the Greenfield route running north of Bogart into Jackson County before dipping south to Athens.
The Athens Banner-Herald last week used a Capitol Beat News Service report on the decision to select the Greenfield route that included Athens. The story did not mention the alternatives that had been under consideration.
The northern most route was the least expensive, but it also had the lowest projected ridership and the longest times end-to-end.
The route along I-85 was by far the most expensive–at up to $15.4 billion. It produced slightly lower ridership estimates and resulted in longer end-to-end times than did the route through Athens.