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Developer: Gulch deal doesn’t preclude commuter rail possibilities

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“There’s some anxiety that there will never be a train station here in the Gulch,” councilman tells CIM Group

A view of the gulch, a large parking lot, and rail lines.
A view of the Gulch, a large parking lot, and existing, active rail lines.
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When a representative of developer CIM Group said last month that commuter rail is “not a consideration” in the company’s plans for downtown’s Gulch, some lost hope in Atlanta’s regional rail future.

The project official’s remark, made during an August 21 work session, “shut down” metro Atlanta’s chances of getting a robust regional rail network, as urbanist blog ThreadATL put it.

That take—and a subsequent outpouring of concern from backer’s of a multifaceted transit hub downtown—would explain why Atlanta City Councilman Amir Farokhi, during another Gulch-related work session held today, said, “There’s some anxiety that there will never be a train station here [in the Gulch].”

Farokhi raised concerns with the 600-plus-page development deal proposed for the Gulch, pressing CIM Group representatives for more information about the Norfolk Southern rail lines that cut through the unsightly pit.

CIM Group’s vice president of real estate development, Shannon Crowell, said that, at the behest of the railroad company, “We have maintained clearances and easements which allow for future expansion of Norfolk Southern’s rail lines.”

So the door’s not totally shut on commuter rail... yet.

On a related note, Norfolk Southern is considering relocating its headquarters to the Gulch, according to Saporta Report.

Farokhi kept prodding: “Is there anything to prevent a train station from being built in that area?”

Nope, said Lauren McDermott, CIM Group’s associate vice president.

“There’s enough space within that right of way Norfolk Southern is requiring us to maintain in order to sell us the land,” she told councilmembers. “According to experts, you could put commuter rail there. You’d have to add some platforms to it … and you can’t say now that structurally it would all work, but there’s nothing to say that it could not [bring commuter rail] through that space.”

It’s hard to say what such an endeavor would look like, as Farokhi posited, with the Gulch’s landscape likely to be evolving soon—not to mention advances in railroad technology.

“The size of trains may change—a lot of variables pertain to the future use of the space,” he said. “And there may never be a train station here. But because it’s the center-point of the city … and a lot of transportation modes, it makes sense to preserve it.”

It’s been suggested that Amazon is more liable to choose a city with commuter rail connectivity—or at least the potential for it—for its second headquarters.

Today’s session was meant as a forum for city officials to air questions over CIM Group’s plans for the Gulch. A full council vote on the project could come as early as Monday, officials have said this week.