More trains, tough choices

Regardless of whether you think more passenger trains for Atlanta is a good idea, a shared understanding of a few key facts is critical to the discussion about a downtown multimodal passenger terminal (MMPT). Norfolk Southern would be pleased to work with developers and the state on the project, recognizing some geographic realities up front:

  • Atlanta has a single rail corridor used by both Norfolk Southern and CSX through the downtown Gulch area. Every freight train that can't go through this corridor means 250 to 400 more trucks on Atlanta highways.
  • The downtown rail corridor is hemmed in by development, limiting land for new tracks for passenger trains.
  • MARTA construction in the 1970s used up a lot of railroad right of way, meaning less vacant land is available now.

Norfolk Southern has worked hard to grow its business in Atlanta and throughout the country, and our routes here are busier than ever. Our freight volume through downtown Atlanta has grown by 78 percent in the last 30 years. Since 2001, Norfolk Southern has invested $162 million in new Atlanta-area terminals and tracks for handling the growing traffic. All that new freight uses the same century-old right of way, which is more constrained now than ever.

That’s why Norfolk Southern lacks capacity for new passenger trains inside Atlanta’s perimeter. Can new capacity be created? Sure, with tough choices about new passenger rights of way and public investment. Those choices should be part of any discussion about the MMPT.

Norfolk Southern is optimistic about growing our business by taking trucks off of Georgia roads. We have worked with the state, the Georgia Ports Authority, and local economic development agencies to improve our routes to the ports of Savannah and Brunswick so freight can move by rail — mostly through Atlanta. To handle growth, we’re making our trains longer, heavier and even higher by stacking containers two-high on our trains.

Atlanta sits astride Norfolk Southern’s Crescent Corridor, an award-winning public-private partnership that is working to move a million trucks a year from the roads to the rails. Norfolk Southern employs nearly 5,000 Georgians, and we are hiring more to move our freight trains.

Norfolk Southern is working with planners on 38 active passenger rail projects in 17 states. And Norfolk Southern will work with planners in Georgia to see what is possible in or around Atlanta. But any planning for the MMPT must answer the basic question of how passenger trains will get there. Not doing so would be akin to designing terminals at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport without considering the runways.

John H. Friedmann is vice president of strategic planning for Norfolk Southern Corp.

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