High-speed train from Charlotte to Atlanta is still a long way off
The proposed high-speed rail line from Charlotte to Atlanta made headlines last week as planners published their preferred route – through Gaston County, to Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport, to Athens and finally Atlanta – but people shouldn’t be planning their trips anytime soon. .
The line has been in the planning phase for almost a decade, with no dedicated construction funding. Even the Biden administration’s bipartisan infrastructure package, if it gets to Congress, wouldn’t make the project a sure thing.
Here’s what you need to know about the route, cost and obstacles.
1. Charlotte to Atlanta rail route
Until recently, it was not known exactly where the new high-speed rail line would go. It’s still not clear – the proposed route isn’t set in stone – but Georgia transportation officials and the Federal Railroad Administration released a plan earlier this month which presents their best scenario.
The route starts in Charlotte at Gateway station in upscale neighborhoods, stops near the airport, then heads southwest to Gaston County and the South Carolina state border.
Somewhere between the airport and the Gaston County stop, the train will leave the existing tracks to join the high-speed rail line, which has yet to be built. This is where the train can really pick up speed, from 80 to 110 miles per hour on the old line to 220 miles per hour on the bullet train, according to the new planning document. .
From Gaston County, the train heads south, passes east of Kings Mountain State Park, and stops at Greenville-Spartanburg Airport. It will travel east of Greenville continuing south, making stops in towns that include Anderson, SC, and Athens and Suwanee in Georgia. Passengers could exit downtown Atlanta or at the airport.
With electric propulsion, the entire trip would take a little over two hours. Direct flights can take around an hour and 15 minutes, not including time spent in the airport security lines.
2. What is the delay?
Publishing a preferred route is just one step in a long planning process, and the finish line is always waiting on the distant horizon.
David Carol, director of operations for the American Public Transportation Association, said the route still has many hurdles to overcome: finding the exact plots of land where authorities could build a new rail line; acquire the land; and, most importantly, get the money.
The latest planning document estimates that the road would cost between $ 6.2 billion and $ 8.4 billion. So far, no government agency has set aside money to build it.
Carol, a former Charlotte-area transit system planner, said transit advocates are pushing officials to establish a high-speed rail trust fund, where the money could be set aside each year and could not be transferred to other programs on the whims of change. administrations or congresses.
The Obama administration, for example, spent $ 11 billion on railways but was hampered by Republican opposition in Congress. (Critics also say administration strategy, which spread the money out rather than focusing on a handful of doable projects, was flawed from the start.)
“Without trust funds, we find ourselves in the same situation we find ourselves in with Obama,” Carol said. “You have these projects that take years and years to build without a reliable flow of funding. “
Convincing the federal government to come together and support high-speed rail funding is, at least for now, a difficult prospect. There is a chance, however, that Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure bill could put money aside.
Carol said the $ 66 billion proposed in the Senate bill for freight and passenger rail transport would amount to a “down payment” and that most of the money would be spent in the Northeast and for support Amtrak. The success of the $ 973 billion infrastructure package remains uncertain on Tuesday, even as Senate Democrats hoped for a vote on Wednesday, according to the Associated Press.
“This $ 66 billion is not enough for a huge national high-speed rail program,” he said, although it could bring the project closer to construction.