GA: Tomlinson Among Leaders in D.C. to Pitch HSR Line

Aug. 14--Mayor Teresa Tomlinson and State Rep. Calvin Smyre were part of a delegation that met today with high-ranking federal officials on the subject of the proposed rail line between Columbus and Atlanta, Tomlinson said.

Smyre is co-chairman of the Mayor's Commission on Passenger Rail along with attorney Edward Hudson, who also traveled to Washington, D.C., with the Georgia delegation.

The delegation met with Joseph C. Szabo, the administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration, Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx and members of Vice President Joe Biden's senior staff to pitch the proposed line between Georgia's two largest cities.

"High-speed rail lines are going to be built," Tomlinson said from Washington today. "We want to make sure that Columbus is near the front of the line when they are."

In 2012, Tomlinson appointed a 30-person passenger rail commission to study the proposal, and then commissioned a $360,000 feasibility study, which was funded with a Georgia Department of Transportation grant and local private donations.

The consulting firm the conducted the study, HNTB Corp., developed three possible rail proposals, which it estimated would cost from $1.3 to $3.9 billion dollars over a 20-year span.

That study concluded that the most expensive of the proposals, a rail line following the rights of way of Interstates 85 and 185 at speeds from 150-220 mph, could be profitable in its first year of operation. The positive findings of that study were presented in Washington today and are one reason Columbus is on the map when it comes to passenger rail, Tomlinson said.

"Columbus is getting this attention now because our project is doable," Tomlinson said. "The rail line will run only 90 miles, which is bite-sized compared to a lot of other proposed projects around the country. We also have a known history of successful public-private partnerships in Columbus.

The next step is to seek a grant to perform the Phase 1 National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) study, which is necessary before the project can move forward. After that and another NEPA study are performed, the project will enter preliminary design, then final design stages before any necessary right of way acquisition can be done, according to HNTB's report.

That could take as long as 18 years, the report states, and then construction could take another two years.

Tomlinson has said the project could produce as many as 11,000 jobs, the equivalent of four KIA plants, but as important as that would be connecting Columbus to the state's largest economic engine.

"This isn't just about going to Braves games," Tomlinson said when the study was released. "It's literally about making Atlanta a bedroom community of Columbus and Columbus a bedroom community of Atlanta."

The delegation, each member of which paid for his or her transportation, lodging and meals, returned to Columbus this afternoon, Tomlinson said.

A previous version of the story mentioned Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed as part of the delegation in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday. Reed did not travel to Washington.

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