The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) has provided significant investment in high-speed rail planning and design over the past five years through the High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program (HSIPR). The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) completed a study in 1997, High-Speed Ground Transportation for America, which concluded that high-speed ground transportation's total benefits exceed total cost in most corridors, especially those whose distance is between 100 and 600 miles, contributing to the continued investment in passenger rail programs. The FRA and Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) have invested in high-speed rail in Georgia over the past few years with three feasibility studies; Atlanta-Birmingham, AL, Atlanta-Jacksonville, FL, and Atlanta-Louisville, KY; two environmental impact analysis for the Atlanta to Charlotte, NC corridor as well as the Atlanta to Chattanooga, TN corridor; and will be updating the Georgia State Rail Plan over the next couple of years.
The Columbus to Atlanta corridor is another spoke in the high-speed rail wheel in the metro Atlanta area, providing alternative transportation services to the third largest city in Georgia. The Columbus Consolidated Government (CCG) has retained HNTB Corporation to provide planning services to evaluate the feasibility of high-speed rail in the Columbus to Atlanta corridor. This study area is focused on a new high-speed rail corridor from Columbus traveling northeast towards Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (H-JAIA) and Georgia's MultiModal Passenger Terminal (MMPT) in downtown Atlanta.
The feasibility study will involve socio-economic and transportation data collection; forecasting; planning and integration; economic and financial analysis; and stakeholder involvement. The study began in Spring 2013 and is scheduled for completion late 2013 or early 2014.
What is High Speed Rail?
High Speed Rail can take one of several forms depending on the corridor conditions and passenger travel needs. Emerging High-Speed Rail (79-110 mph travel speed), Regional High-Speed Rail (110-150 mph travel speed) and Express High-Speed Rail (150-220 mph travel speed) are three common types of high speed rail alternatives.
Emerging High-Speed Rail generally involves utilizing rail corridor owned by a freight railroad. This type of service is also commonly called "Shared Use". Diesel-electric Tilt Train Technology is proposed for Shared Use corridors due to the extreme curvature on these alignments. Travel speed typically achieves top speeds of 90-110 mph.
Regional High-Speed Rail uses grade-separated passenger-only corridor with diesel-electric technology. However, this option will share right-of-way in terminal areas in order to access stations. Travel speeds can reach up to 150 mph but will generally average a top speed of approximately 130 mph.
Express High-Speed Rail is developed on a completely grade separated (no roadway crossings), electrified, and dedicated track with possible exception of some shared right-of-way in terminal areas. Express High Speed Rail is intended to relieve air and highway capacity constraints and achieves top speeds of 180-220 mph.
Why is a study of High Speed Rail between Columbus and Atlanta being conducted?
Transportation needs are ever-growing in the Southeast, and the Federal Railroad Administration in conjunction with the Obama Administration has dedicated funds to study the feasibility of high -speed rail as a possible solution to help meet future demands on transportation infrastructure. High-speed rail is a quick, reliable, energy efficient, environmentally clean, and comfortable option for city to city travel. Rail passengers are relieved of issues including parking, traffic congestion delays, and personal vehicle maintenance costs. The presence of high-speed rail can also create jobs, support economic stability, and spur revitalization and community reinvestment.
What alternatives will be evaluated?
The study area for the Columbus to Atlanta High Speed Rail corridor includes the following counties: Paulding, Cobb, DeKalb, Rockdale, Douglas, Fulton, Clayton, Henry, Carroll, Heard, Coweta, Fayette, Spalding, Troupe, Meriwether, Pike, Harris, Talbott, Upson, Muscogee, Chattahoochee, Marion, and Stewart Counties in Georgia and Chambers, Lee, and Russell Counties in Alabama.
The study will evaluate two representative route alternatives as a basis for feasibility. The representative alternatives are not preferred alternatives or recommendations, but will act as a basis for feasibility of the corridor as a whole. There will be one representative route alternative for shared use options (utilizing existing railroad right-of-way) and one representative route alternative for dedicated use (passenger rail-only). The study team will identify a universe of alternatives from which to select these representations. The study team will use technical data and stakeholder feedback during the selection process.
How does this feasibility study fit into the overall project development process?
The feasibility study will include alternative development, ridership forecasts, operation and maintenance costs, and capital costs for each representative alternative. Ultimately, the study will provide the basis for determining if the corridor is a feasible candidate for further studies and insight into possible alignment and technology options.
What happens after the feasibility study is complete?
Once a feasible alternative corridor is determined, the next steps in the project development process are typically to complete required National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) evaluations and to develop a Service Development Plan for high-speed rail in the corridor.
Who are the stakeholders?
There are three groups of stakeholders that will be involved in the study process: The Mayor's Commission for Passenger Rail including representatives from the Columbus area with a vested interested in passenger rail; a Technical Advisory Group including representatives for business, education, military, other transportation modes, and political leaders; and counties and municipalities within the study area.
What exactly is the Atlanta Multi-Modal Passenger Terminal (MMPT)?
The Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) is in the process of developing a Multi-Modal Passenger Terminal in the Gulch area of downtown Atlanta. The MMPT will serve as a hub for high speed rail, commuter rail, intercity rail (MARTA), and other ground transportation such as bus and taxi service.
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