Birmingham to Atlanta High Speed Train
by David Sher BackCity to give voice to the people of Birmingham and Alabama.
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Today’s guest columnist is Jennifer L. Greer.
Editor’s Note: Last year, ComebackTown ran a column titled High-speed train from Birmingham to Atlanta. It is the most read play in our history. I asked Jennifer Greer, a professional journalist, to determine its likelihood.
On a recent flight from North Dakota, Jane and Charles Falany of Vestavia Hills, AL, thought they were almost home when their plane touched down in Atlanta, GA at around 4 p.m.
A connecting flight would put them in Birmingham, AL, in an hour or two.
But Atlanta airport quickly closed due to a thunderstorm. And with flights repeatedly canceled and rescheduled, the couple did not return home until around 11 p.m. “We could have gotten home faster by car,” explains Ms. Falany.
What if they had the chance to take High Speed Rail (HSR) from Atlanta Airport to Birmingham in just over an hour?
“Absolutely, we would take the train,” she says, and Ms Falany is one of the majority of americans that support the development of passenger rail.
“When can we do this?” It’s a question people in Birmingham and Atlanta have been asking for at least 25 years.
From the Olympics to the World Games
Rail passenger transport already exists between Birmingham and Atlanta via the Amtrak Crescent , taking around 4.5 hours, which is two hours longer than driving a car. But there were calls for faster service long before the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.
In 1997, the federal government named the Birmingham-Atlanta line as one of 11 routes nationwide warranting high-speed rail, citing the need for economic development as well as improved public transportation.
But politics has changed in Washington, DC, and time has passed.
In 2004, the idea emerged again as part of a multi-state effort to create an 800-mile I-20 Rail Corridor and connecting “the mega-regions” of Dallas-Fort Worth, TX, and Atlanta, GA., according to the Southern Railway Commission.
Then came the Great Recession of 2007-2008.
In 2012, with a stronger economy and new federal momentum, a fast train from Birmingham to Atlanta along Interstate 20 (with its existing right-of-way and favorable geography) looked promising, says Commission executive director Charles Ball. of Greater Birmingham Regional Planning. (RPCGB). Ball’s organization partnered with the Georgia Department of Transportation to generate a detailed report on the feasibility of a high-speed train along several corridors.
“This proposed corridor stretched from Atlanta Airport to a multimodal facility in downtown Atlanta and downtown Birmingham, where we now have a new Intermodal facility,” he explains. “They analyzed routes for shared use from 90 to 110 mph and dedicated use from 180 to 220 mph, as well as a hybrid model. It was the shortest of the corridors studied, it had the cheapest capital costs and it has been given the green light for the next level of planning.
As with the development of the U.S. Interstate Highway System, government funding would be needed to complement private investment and fully implement the HSR, the report says.
But again, politics changed in Washington, DC, and more time passed.
“Now the World Games are over,” says Ball. “I don’t understand why we can send Americans to the moon, but people can’t travel from Atlanta to Birmingham by fast train.”
The dream train: an elevated I-20X
More recently, Birmingham HSR’s hopes were lifted in 2020 by a presentation to the city of a private sector-led proposal, I-20X bullet train, which describes intercity passenger rail service connecting Atlanta, GA, Birmingham, AL, Jackson, MS, Shreveport LA and Dallas, TX.
Prepared by a local consulting firm, Finley Group, Inc.., Ambitious I-20X vision includes high-tech trains that would travel on elevated tracks at speeds of 200 mph with an estimated start-up cost of $4.5-6 billion for the Birmingham-Atlanta segment .
Such a service would reduce drive times between Atlanta and Dallas from 12 hours to around 5 hours, and between Birmingham and Atlanta from 2.5 hours to just over 1 hour, in addition to creating an economic development boom. of the transport and rail industry. station sites as new commercial hubs, says company president Richard H. Finley.
Finley, a black Republican leader and entrepreneur who rejects public funding for such projects, had hoped to market its design at a 2020 HSR conference in Birmingham that was canceled due to the pandemic. Since then, he has lobbied the staff of Georgia Governor Brian Kemp and Alabama Governor Kay Ivey to try to secure cooperation protocols, without success.
Meanwhile, politics had changed again in Washington, D.C.
2020s: Decade of rapid passenger rail?
In 2021, the 1 trillion federal dollars Bipartisan Infrastructure Act committed $41 billion in subsidies to Amtrak and $43.5 billion to the federal-state partnership for intercity passenger rail subsidies, including high-speed rail. Consider the flurry of railroad projects in the Southern states.
A new high-speed rail line between the two state capitals of Raleigh, NC, and Richmond, VA., is in preparation. A proposed high-speed rail line will connect Charlotte, North Carolina, and Atlanta, Georgia, via the 274-mile Greenfield Corridor. In Tennessee, when Amtrak has announced that it wants to connect Nashville with ChattanoogaAtlanta and other cities, a bipartisan group of state lawmakers sped up a new law to identify intercity rail networks.
This activity, coupled with the fact that none of Alabama’s US senators voted for the Infrastructure Act, has residents wondering if Birmingham will be left at the station when the HSR train pulls away.
“I think you’ll see something happen here,” said Birmingham Councilor Clinton Woods (D1), a rail enthusiast, adding that the city is considering postponing a major HSR conference for officials, investors, rail operators and developers.
“The fast passenger train is safer, reduces the number of cars on the road, extends the life of the highway, reduces pollution and attracts a younger workforce who may want to live here, where housing is affordable and work in Atlanta,” he adds.
Woods recently toured a new passenger rail service, Light line, which runs between 80 mph and 110 mph, in Florida. A private company launched in 2018, Brightline has already carried 1.5 million passengers from Miami to West Palm Beach and is expanding its service to Orlando and Tampa airport with the help of federal funding.
“It’s a great experience, like flying,” says Woods of Brightline. “And the development, particularly in the footprint around the hubs, where apartment complexes, retail stores and restaurants have sprung up, is impressive.
“It takes a lot of coordination and buy-in, but we’ve shown we can do it,” he says, pointing to the new Intermodal facility as transformational and the momentum of the city after hosting the World Games and becoming the headquarters of the USFL.
Still optimistic, I made a note to call Ball, Finley and Woods in 2032.
Jennifer L. Greer is a freelance journalist and retired university teacher who lives in Birmingham, AL. Region.
David Sher is the founder and publisher of BackCity. He has served as Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham) and the City Action Partnership (CAP).
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