If You Can’t Build Rail, Build the Station

The AJC reports this morning that GDOT is considering trying to spend the $87 million “use-it-or-lose-it” federal funding for the Lovejoy rail line to help construct the much talked-about Grand Central Terminal in downtown Atlanta’s under-utilized “Gulch”.

The proposed terminal hub would be located just northwest of the current Five Points MARTA station – here’s an excellent map that shows all of Atlanta’s past, present and proposal rail stations – and would serve not just MARTA, but high-speed passenger rail, AMTRAK and commuter lines for the entire metro area.

Of course, any costly infrastructure improvement requires taking on some risk.  If high-speed rail and commuter lines never find their way out of the Northeast, and all rail becomes as difficult to execute as the Lovejoy line, an giant Atlanta hub might only echo with the footsteps of lovely MARTA riders lost in an underground world of unused tracks.

However, if the alternative is allowing the $87 million to go unused and thrown back into the federal pile only to be snatched up by some other competing second-tier city, I say “If you can determine its legality, build away!”

P.S.  In writing this post, I discovered the great Track Twenty Nine blog out of D.C., which did some exciting renderings of what Atlanta’s hub might look like, with high-speed, MARTA and commuter lines stretching in all directions from the city’s core.  Pretty cool stuff if you’re into rail porn.

15 thoughts on “If You Can’t Build Rail, Build the Station”

  1. Wow…how great would it be to ride from my home in Marietta to Emory…no car, no pollution, I can read a book. Reminds me of living in Scarsdale and riding commuter train into Manhattan daily…what a treat that was.

    Here’s to this idea becoming reality.

    1. Jim, based on your post, I am curious as to why you don’t just move closer to Emory? You could cut down on pollution, reduce your commute, etc, and all for far less than the hundreds of millions it would cost to build a commuer rail line from Marietta directly to Emory.

  2. I think they’ll find that the $87M can only be used for rail service. Besides, what’s the point of having a station with no trains? The station plan you refer to is a paper tiger that has been around at least 10 years. And, that location would be impractical to use for true High Speed Rail, which Georgia won’t see anyway for a long, long, time.

    1. Besides, what’s the point of having a station with no trains?

      Isn’t this sort of a chicken or the egg sorta thing Steve? Stations beget trains, trains beget stations? Or is it a case where both must be built at the same time?

      It may be a paper tiger, but it’s a $87 million paper tiger. Should GDOT just give the money back?

      1. Yes, they should give it back. It’s been on the books almost 10 years and our asphalt-centric DOT and legislature haven’t come up with the matching $$ despite having spent hundreds of millions, yea even billions, on roads in the meantime. The people in Washington think we’re idiots and Transportation Secretary LaHood (a Republican, BTW) as much as said so when he was in town a few months back.

        If/when the Lovejoy/Griffin line is ever built, it won’t need an $87M station. Stations don’t begat trains, trains begat stations.

        1. Hmm…I like to scoff an idiot as much as the next person, but I’m not so sure I’d give up $87 million without a fight. We already look like idiots, which I’m assuming you’re implying will make it even harder to get this type of funding in the future, so why give it up without trying to get it to help build a giant hub?

          And I’m not convinced that trains only beget stations. I think it’s worked both ways in the past. What about all the ridiculous infrastructure built back in the day to entice railroads to come to a city? Isn’t this kinda the same thing?

      2. Using the Obama administration’s math, that $87 million would “save or create” at least 6 billion jobs, thereby lifting us out of the recession.

    2. Steve,

      Don’t forget that the Lovejoy line is but one part of an entire commuter rail system that is envisioned for the Atlanta region that would actually tie into a statewide intercity rail system. A long way off, yes, but still part of a system that would need central station to accomdate the trains and provide a connection to the MARTA rail system. It’s not a bad way to spend the earmark considering that it needs to be spent in the next 12-18 months to avoid losing it.

      1. So, if they spend the money on the station, where’s the money coming from for the train? The first line (Lovejoy/Griffin) can have a much simpler terminal in the same place until the other lines get operating sometime in the next century.

        BTW, a study done some years ago projected that a statewide passenger rail system could be done for less than the cost of the 5th runway at Hartsfield.

        1. That’s an eminantly valid point, Steve. And in a closer to perfect world the right thing to do would be to spend the money on the train line itself. Unfortunately, under the use-it-or-lose-it cricumstances the earmark is in, it may be easier to expedite the station. After all, the underlying problem is not necessarily the the state match – it’s who will pay the opperating costs. And there won’t be any operating costs on the station until the line gets up and running. At the very least it would show the feds that Atlanta/Georgia can make a decision and do something with the money.

          1. Yeah, but it will be the wrong decision. The Feds will say “the earmark sat there for 10 years and you did nothing, now you want to use it for other than its intended purpose – good luck getting more”. It doesn’t match my idea of “getting your act together” per Secretary LaHood.

            1. Some of earmark was specifically intended for the MMPT so it fits right in with the purposes anyway. And, I’ll agree that this does not represent “getting you act together”. But it does represent a step in the right direction. Small victories: build the station, get regional transportation sales tax (and allocate money to build commuter rail), get state of georgia to start supporting transit… It’s got to start somewhere. We can’t just plop down a fully developed commuter rail system out of the sky.

  3. The reality is that G-DoT loves it some concrete and very little else, and the General Assembly sees the Lovejoy line as an Atlanta thing, so why bother? The $87 million needs to be for the train line itself, and if the state lacks the leadership to do this, then give it to a “second tier” city with the first tier leadership to prioritize transit options ahead of developer-driven growth.

  4. Thanks for the link!

    I might have started Track Twenty-Nine in DC, but I grew up outside Atlanta, and spent four years living in Midtown. I have high hopes for Atlanta and Georgia, but y’all need to keep up the pressure on your elected officials.

    Thanks for the compliments on the maps.

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