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What to know about the Atlanta-Charlotte high-speed rail proposal

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There’s still plenty of time to submit suggestions

A map shows the three alternatives for potential railway routes.
The three high-speed route options, illustrated. 
Georgia Department of Transportation

Transit advocates near and far are geeking over the prospect of taking a high-speed train that could get people from Atlanta to Charlotte in as little as about two hours.

Federal and state transportation officials in Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina are now exploring the possibilities for the Southeast High-Speed Rail (SEHSR) that could one day link Atlanta to Charlotte, with a handful of stops in between.

Depending on which of three potential routes officials decide to pursue, construction of the monumental project could cost anywhere from $2 billion to $15.4 billion, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. And train travel times could be up to five and a half hours.

By 2050, the line could carry hundreds of thousands of passengers annually across states. Or more than 6 million, per the AJC.

So there’s a lot of hypothetical wiggle room at this point.

The project is still very much in its early stages, and transportation agency officials have looked to the public to help craft the future plans.

On Tuesday, the Georgia Department of Transportation hosted an open house meeting in Atlanta to gauge public interest and field suggestions.

Roughly 150 people turned out to the event at GDOT’s office, agency spokesman Scott Higley told Curbed Atlanta.

Currently, transportation officials are eyeing three possible routes that run from Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport northeast to Charlotte, per the Federal Railroad Administration:

  • Southern Crescent; following the Norfolk Southern railroad corridor that hosts the existing Amtrak Crescent long-distance service between Charlotte and Atlanta;
  • I-85; following the Interstate 85 right of way between Gastonia, NC and Suwanee, and transitioning to existing railroad rights of way in the approaches to the Atlanta and Charlotte, NC termini;
  • Greenfield; development of a new “greenfield” high-speed rail corridor between Atlanta and Charlotte, and transitioning to existing railroad rights of way in the approaches to the Atlanta and Charlotte termini.

Of course, some have wondered if hybrid options were on the table, too, but it seems that might be too soon to say, according to Higley.

“Feedback on the three proposed alternatives (and the proposed stations that accompany them) are important because each comment is evaluated by FRA and GDOT to determine feasibility, viability, and which of the three proposed alternatives is the most appealing to the public,” he said.

Added Higley: “These meetings don’t indicate certainty the project will move forward; they are to determine feasibility: ‘Is there enough public interest in such a project, and which of the alternatives is the preferred route?’ among other questions.”

Additionally, it’s still unclear how such a colossal project would be funded.

Agency leaders are in what Higley called “an exploratory phase,” which entails environmental impact assessments.

He said officials “could identify funding in a later phase of development if the project were to continue moving forward.”

GDOT and FRA leaders will be cutting through the public’s comments for a while, and interested Georgians can still submit their suggestions at GDOT’s website.