Bicycling in and around Atlanta.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Amtrak and Georgia DOT Endanger Beltline?

The Beltline is Atlanta's plan for a new intown transportation corridor composed of light rail and multi-use paths. It's had a fitful existence so far, with a step back for every two steps forward. Last week it may have had its legs knocked out from underneath it. Amtrak and the Georgia Department of Transportation have filed papers with the Federal Surface Transportation Board that lay claim to a planned section of the Beltline along the northeast corridor.

Amtrak's plans include a "high-speed" rail connection with Charlotte, North Carolina. And while I'm a big fan of inter-city rail, Amtrak's plans are fundamentally flawed. First their "high-speed" rail isn't really high-speed. Because Amtrak plans to use existing tracks, the same ones currently used for freight, the top speed would be limited to 100 miles an hour. Which sounds fast but when you consider the train (like the Acela in the northeast) would likely have to slow down many times on the route, you realize 100 mph isn't that fast. Secondly look what it would have to compete with. Want to go to Charlotte, a regular Amtrak ticket will run you $62, let's estimate a high-speed train ticket would be $100, what are the other options. Well you could drive, 250 miles at 25 miles per gallon that's ten gallons, at $4 a gallon that's $40. Of course you can't drive 100 mph but on that stretch of road the speed rarely drops below 75. Or you could fly on one of Airtran's internet specials for $39.

Now don't get me wrong, I want high-speed inter-city rail. I just want it done right. To have real high-speed rail we need new tracks exclusively for passenger rail. And it has to be subsidized. I know that's a dirty word in the USA, but if you want people to use a cleaner more efficient mode of transportation you've got to make it cheaper while making other forms of transportation more expensive.

So if you want to save the Beltline and want to stop Amtrak from creating another money hole, write your representatives in congress and the Georgia DOT.

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