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November 9, 2010

High speed rail project moves slowly, spawns skeptics

DALTON — A proposed high-speed rail line from Atlanta to Chattanooga could carry between 8,000 and 12,000 passengers a day, according to consultants working on the project.

Those numbers, and the fact that a stop on the rail is slated for the Dalton area, has many local officials excited.

“It could have a tremendous impact on Dalton, just like I-75 has now and like Highway 41 did before that,” said Dalton City Council member Gary Crews. “It will make it possible for the young professional we want to live here to get to Atlanta quickly and easily.”

But some local citizens who turned out for a public meeting on the rail line Monday night at Dalton State College were more skeptical.

“I want to know how much it is going to cost and who is going to pay for it,” said Dalton’s Ray Hamilton.

Mohamed Arafa, a spokesman for the Georgia Department of Transportation said the estimated cost to build the rail line is between $6 billion and $9 billion. He said the plan calls for the rail line to be a “public private” partnership with part of the funding coming from government and part from a private operator.

Will fares cover the operating costs?

“We don’t know yet,” said L.N. Manchi, senior project manager with the engineering/consulting Moreland Altobelli.

Manchi said the answer to that would be determined in the Tier 2 studies, which will also determine the exact route of the rail line, where stations will be placed and whether it will be a wheeled rail line or magnetic levitation (Maglev).

Consultants said both wheeled-rail and Maglev are capable of speeds of more than 180 mph, though the line will likely not be that fast over its entire length.

On Monday, consultants presented the first part of their Tier 1 study, which focused on possible routes.

Manchi said analysts started with 18 possible routes for the rail line and compared them based on population access, potential ridership and other factors. Based on that, they have narrowed the list down to four potential routes, all of which basically follow I-75.

“Those are the recommended routes. It could change based on public input, stakeholder concerns or other factors,” he said.

Manchi said that the Tier 1 study should be finished early next year, and the final studies should be finished some time in 2012.

But the preliminary results have some area residents worried.

“I’m getting conflicting stories from different consultants. One told me it would be coming up the middle (of I-75). Another told me it would come down the side. Well, if it comes down one side, it could get my house. I live next to the interstate and my property touches the right of way,” said Dalton’s John O’Neal.

But Resaca’s Don Rich said he was looking forward to the rail line.

“I’m in favor of it. I think it will have a good impact on this area,” he said.

But whatever the impact is it may not be felt for a long time.

Arafa said that if federal officials and those in Georgia and Tennessee decide to implement the project, and if they can come up with the funding in a timely manner, it will be 2020 before it is completed.

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