“Train service that covers long distances and connects the urban centers in the state,” is how Georgia Department of Transportation Intermodal Program Division Director Erik Steavens described passenger rail. “It’s a pretty comfortable setting, not like MARTA.”
He said the accommodations are coach-style and there are more comfortable chairs. He compared passenger rail to the Amtrak Crescent line. Unlike commuter rail, which is primarily about getting people to and from work, passenger rail is about connecting cities and generating economic development.
Georgia DOT spokeswoman Crystal Paulk-Buchanan said the passenger rail system is more elaborate than commuter rail. She said if passenger rail is built, one could take the train from Macon to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
Steavens said the state has been looking at passenger rail for more than 20 years but now more federal funding is available, from the Amtrak reauthorization bill and $1 billion over the next five years that has been specifically devoted to passenger rail.
“This is not funding specific to Georgia,” Paulk-Buchanan said.
“This is nationwide funding that we can apply for.”
Steavens said the state matching requirements, if there are any, have not been set yet. The monies contained in the stimulus bill require no local match.
“Typically, most rail projects have a 20 percent state match but that is yet to be determined still,” Steavens said.
He said due to the budget challenges at the state level, he is working on creative means of raising money to meet any potential matching requirements.
Paulk-Buchanan added that the DOT is constrained by the constitutional requirement that fuel-tax monies be spent only on roads and bridges. She said the DOT is searching for additional funding sources and that might require legislative attention.
“Passenger rail would serve us just as well because it’s a statewide system and runs seven days a week,” said Spalding County Commissioner Eddie Freeman, who also sits on the commuter rail implementation board of the Atlanta Regional Commission.
He said passenger rail would serve more people because it would run seven days a week, unlike commuter rail that would run only five days per week.