Sun, July 14, 2024

AU dean believes trains are in Augusta’s future

Editor’s Note: Augusta hasn’t had passenger train service since 1966 when Southern Railways’ “Augusta Special” was running to East Coast destinations. Is it time to bring back that transit option?

Recent announcements from both of Georgia’s senators caught the interest of a dean at Augusta University.

In a December news release, Senators Jon Ossoff (D) and Reverend Raphael Warnock (D) announced grants from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to study the feasibility of three new passenger rail corridors connecting Georgia with cities in North Carolina and Tennessee.

The lines would connect Atlanta to Savannah, Charlotte, and Chattanooga.

Dr. Marc Austin, Dean of Augusta University Online, told ABD he sees another opportunity. Developing passenger train service between Atlanta, Savannah, and Augusta.

“If you look at the northeastern part of the country, it has trains that allow people to move much more freely and easily, and I think that same opportunity should be here in Georgia, where our economy is growing and the need for labor is high,” he said. “I think connecting the state with more modes of transportation, especially fast, efficient, effective transportation, ease a little bit of the burden on our infrastructure, which is taking a beating from the trucks and the cars.”

Three grants of $500,000 each will fund studies to determine if passenger rail service connecting Georgia to other states is achievable.

“Creating new transit options with routes connecting Atlanta to Savannah, Charlotte, Chattanooga, and cities in between would be a boon to our state and economy,” said Warnock in the news release. “I’m thrilled to announce new investments to explore three new passenger rail corridors in Georgia, and I’m glad to work with Senator Ossoff to get this done.”

Austin also touts the potential impact on workforce development across the Peach State.

“We need to make sure our labor is mobile, meaning you can get a lot of the highly skilled individuals to Atlanta, where there are a lot of jobs,” he said. “We also, at the same time, need to be able to get our people to the port in Savannah. That’s the second largest port on the Eastern Seaboard. It is growing gangbusters. The congestion is getting tough around Savannah. The cost of living is getting tough around Savannah, and it’s a perfect opportunity for residents of Augusta to go work in and support the growth in Georgia in Savannah.”

The grants are the latest step in Ossoff’s support for the Southeast High-Speed Rail Corridor. In March 2022, he secured $8 million for the Georgia Department of Transportation to begin planning a high-speed rail link between Atlanta and Savannah with a possible stop in Macon. The latest grant moves the study into phase two.

“Through the bipartisan infrastructure law, Senator Warnock and I are accelerating progress toward passenger rail networks to serve Georgia and the Southeast region. This is a long-term project that will require cooperation and strong execution at all levels of government, but it has the potential to unlock huge gains in mobility and quality of life for Georgians,” the news release quoted Ossoff.

For Austin, a vital first step is getting people to think about it.

“I don’t think we’ve done that just yet,” he said. “We’ve invested a lot of money in our new Coliseum. It’d be really nice to place a train station in proximity to that Coliseum that we’re investing a lot of money in, so that you can get from Atlanta to a show here in Augusta, or a conference or a business meeting.”

Austin said the discussion would also have to include what kind of rail service would be best suited, traditional rail, high-speed rail, or magnetic levitation, also called maglev.

“Ultimately want it to be clean, efficient, fast and effective and safe, all those things. And we can clearly get there. Other countries have. Other parts of our country have, but it requires a real, clear plan,” he said.

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