High-speed rail from Charlotte to Atlanta?

The “tantalizing prospect” as the Charlotte Observer puts it: a high-speed rail line from Charlotte to Atlanta that would reduce the trip to just two hours:

The Charlotte-to-Atlanta portion of the Southeast High Speed Rail Corridor would not be in use for years, largely because it has no federal or state construction funding. The three alternative routes under consideration have estimated costs of between $2 billion and $15 billion.

But the prospect is tantalizing: Rail could someday connect Charlotte and Atlanta at speeds of up to 220 mph and in as little as two hours’ travel time, a recent study found. Drive time between the cities on Interstate 85 typically takes more than four hours.

Of course the Observer is going to lede with the best-case scenario (or worst case, if we’re talking cost here)—the high-speed route is just one possibility. Other possibilities include:

The cheapest of the three alternative routes, at an estimated $2 billion to $2.3 billion, would use Amtrak’s existing Crescent route on Norfolk Southern right-of-way. It would also be the slowest of the three and draw the fewest passengers.

Trains on that route would run at 79 to 110 mph, according to the environmental study, and take four-and-a-half to five-and-a-half hours to reach Atlanta. The maximum speed of Amtrak’s Crescent is 79 mph, Orther said.

An alternative route, new tracks running beside I-85, would cost $13.3 billion to $15.4 billion. Trains would go 125 to 180 mph and take less than three hours to reach Atlanta.

A third option is to create a new corridor at a cost of $6.2 billion to $8.4 billion. It would whisk passengers along at 125 to 220 mph and get them to Atlanta in as little as two hours. The route would also lure up to 6.3 million passengers a year by 2030, the most of the three alternatives.

I can assume that Greensboro–where I live –has some skin in this game as it is along the the D.C. rail corridor. Considerably reducing my time for a trip to Charlotte–plus missing the agony of the constant traffic and congestion –is indeed tantalizing. But proposed high-speed train routes have a poor track record–witness the debacle in California. I’d say I’ll believe this when I see it, but how much money will be wasted only never to see it?

Sam Hieb / Contributing Editor

Sam Hieb is freelance journalist from Greensboro, North Carolina. He is a contributing editor for Carolina Journal and for Piedmont Publius, a blog that focuses on political a...

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