A new study shows that high-speed rail trains like this one could whisk passengers from Atlanta to Charlotte in a little more than two hours. But the rail line would cost billions of dollars to build.

Atlanta-to-Charlotte high-speed rail: AJC readers sound off

As The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported last week, a new study shows that high-speed rail could whisk passengers from Atlanta to Charlotte in a little more than two hours – but it would cost billions of dollars to build. 

The study examined three possible routes for the roughly 280-mile line, comparing projected travel times, construction costs and ridership. No federal or state funding has been identified to build such a line, but the Georgia Department of Transportation is seeking public feedback on the plan. 

So we asked Atlanta Journal-Constitution readers: What do you think of high-speed rail between Atlanta and Charlotte? 

Not surprisingly, opinions are mixed. Some readers dismissed the idea as a waste of taxpayer money. Others think it’s an idea that’s long overdue. You can read some of the readers’ comments below. 

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To answer your question, it would be a boondoggle. To me it is truly odd to call this an “Investment,” which implies that it would generate more revenue than expense and thereby return money to the general fund. I don’t see that as even a remote possibility … 

You cite their travel time projections as being from 2 hours and 6 minutes to 5 hours and 30 minutes. Based on that alone, a trip to CLT could end up being a day trip as opposed to a four-hour drive or flight. 

What are you getting for $2 billion to $15.4 billion investment? Does that include the passenger terminal facilities as well as support facilities such as parking structures, rent-a-car facilities, tie-ins to other modes of ground transportation? Does it include acquisition of high-speed trains, parts and spares? Rail right of way rights and cost of rail construction and upgrades? 

What are the projected operational costs? 

Dividing all the costs by projected traffic, what is the expected per-unit cost to the passenger just to recover debt service, maintenance and operating costs? 

Using the SWAG projected numbers of $15.4 billion (I assume this is bonded debt) and 6.3 million passengers the debt service recovery cost alone would be about $150 per passenger. Add to that maintenance and operating costs, I don’t see how high-speed rail could possibly compete with driving or flying. Add to the debt service recovery cost the same transactional costs as for flying, then it becomes obvious that high-speed rail would require massive taxpayer subsidies to make it work. So much for being an investment … 

Chuck Fister 

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I have traveled extensively in Europe in the past five years and I have come to really appreciate the convenience of high-speed rail. Due to the size of our country, I am not convinced that a nationwide network such as they have in France or Germany can work in the U.S., but I do think there are certain links that would be well-served by high-speed trains. Atlanta to Charlotte would be a great example of such a link. 

Having flown between ATL and CLT, I can say that is a very inefficient way to make that journey. If you live north of I-20, you spend more time getting to the airport, clearing security, and waiting before your flight ever leaves than you would if you just drove. This is the perfect application for rail! Leaving your home at the same time as leaving for the airport, go to a downtown or suburban train station, board with much less hassle (depending on security procedures versus those found in Europe) and you would be to your final destination in Charlotte probably before the plane even landed at Charlotte-Douglas airport! 

Obviously, there are real-world logistics and funding issues, but conceptually, I think Atlanta-Charlotte is a strong option for high-speed rail that would work in the U.S. Just as I have never flown between Paris and London or Brussels - opting for rail each time - a well-run high-speed link between Atlanta and Charlotte could render non-connection air travel between these cities nearly obsolete for many residents of Atlanta and Charlotte. 

Derek B. Cook 

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The proposed routes from Atlanta to Charlotte are somewhat similar to Amtrak. We don't need any duplication. I would be curious to know how many passengers are on the Amtrak route on a daily basis. Also is it possible to use Amtrak current route for commuters like Sun Rail does around Orlando? 

Ron Dundore 

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The rail potential serving Atlanta has long been overlooked. Most of the bridges are already large enough to accommodate two trains running simultaneously. Much of the existing rail has been subjugated to storing rail cars. Wish we were also planning a line running to Nashville! 

Tom Wesley 

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The point of a 2-5 hour "high speed" rail system is to allow yuppie millennials like myself to go to Charlotte to drink and come back the same day. This will not impact labor mobility and will be a drain on taxpayer resources. I will not pay any tax or support any bond for this boondoggle. The only question is can this rail system be as much of a boondoggle as the California "high speed" rail system. 

Matt Robin 

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I'm all in for high speed rail. If the Charlotte line is started with the idea of continuing to D.C. all the better. 

However, I think the first high speed line in GA should be from Atlanta to Savannah. If you could get from Atlanta to Savannah in an hour and a half (optimistically) weekend getaways would be easy/fun. And, if you could fly into Hartsfield-Jackson and jump a train directly to Savannah everybody would win. Think of Delta or Southwest packaging with Savannah - what a way to build an escape. 

Been wanting this for years, it cannot come too soon. 

Jim Stas 

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Complete waste of time and money! How much would the right of way acquisition costs be? One only has to go to downtown Atlanta area by the Gulch and see how much freight comes through Atlanta. Someone with Norfolk-Southern told me once that's it close to 96-98% capacity! So where do you think this high-speed rail line is going to go? What purpose is going to serve? All the Northerner transplants complaining about lack of rail, go back home! It's not an apples-to-apples comparison! 

Charles Reahm 

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It would be great to have the option to travel between Atlanta and Charlotte via train but it would need to have some tangible benefit as compared to driving (i.e., significantly cheaper, faster, more convenient, etc.) 

My personal perspective is that we should either pay up to build the high-speed train that has higher capacity or not spend a dime. The cost/benefit is simply not there for the slow option. I personally can't think of any scenarios where I would be likely pay $50-75 one way (based on Amtrak prices) to go from Atlanta to Charlotte in 5.5 hours rather than drive the 4 hours myself. That in addition to the inconvenience of having to drive to the station, park (potentially pay), potential delays, and lack of car while at the destination add to that perspective. 

I do like the environmental benefit of having folks take the train vs. driving individual cars, but I'd want to understand fully the environmental impact of laying the tracks and running the train. Where is the break-even point on the footprint? Is that worth it? 

Ultimately, I think we need to consider whether it's worth the time and capital intensity to complete this project. I see this as old technology and worry that, by the time a train could be up and running, new, faster, and more efficient means of travel will be available. I'd much rather have a Hyperloop or take a self driving car than take a train. 

Alex Curti 

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We have missed our window for high-speed rail. A far superior option is autonomous vehicles powered by renewable energy that can literally go anywhere. It appears that this high-speed rail project is 20 to 30 years from completion. By then we will have all converted to autonomous vehicles. 

In 2050 let’s compare my options for a trip from my home in Dunwoody to visit a client in Concord, NC. 

Flying - Travel to Atlanta Airport - Flight to Charlotte - Travel to Concord. Total Elapsed time 4 to 5 hours High Speed Rail - Travel to Atlanta Train Station - Train to Charlotte - Travel to Concord - Total elapsed time 5 to 6 hours. 

Autonomous car - Walk out of house - Board Car - Travel at average speed of 120 mph direct to Concord - Elapsed time 2.5 hours. 

There are a few key advantages of a system where there are all autonomous vehicles. 

1. Much higher rates of travel. 

2. Much higher vehicle density. 

3. Ability to use existing roads with minor modifications. 

4. The ability go anywhere there is a road. 

I can’t think of a single advantage high-Speed rail has over high-speed autonomous vehicles. 

Ben Greenwald 

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We have just moved to Atlanta for retirement after living in France for 45 years. We are full-believers in the importance (and comfort) of high-speed rail. It is one of the things that we will miss the most as a result of leaving Europe for the USA, and the American hesitation about it one of the most difficult things to understand. Can one make America great (“again”) without high-speed rail? 

Larry Miller 

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High speed rail will be a major boondoggle and a waste of taxpayer money. 

Sally Eastman 

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I wanted to express my support for such a proposal. I am an advocate for responsibly designed high speed rail systems throughout the southeast. I believe the south is a prime area for such development given the geographical distance between major areas. Connecting the largest hub in the south with the banking capital of the south would be a great start to prove the viability and popularity of such a project. There will be obstacles moving forward, but steps in this direction are important for transportation issues moving forward. It would be nice to have the south lead the charge on a progressive 

Logan Terheggen

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About the Author

David Wickert
David Wickert
David Wickert writes about transportation issues for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He previously worked for newspapers in Washington state, Illinois...
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