Be More Ambitious, Amtrak

Please, Amtrak, be more ambitious.

There’s some good updates recently on the Amtrak expansion front. The long-awaited Atlanta-Chattanooga-Memphis (and Nashville) line(s) are currently under development, and they’ll probably be ready in just a few years barring any major disasters.

The tracks have already been built. The trains already exist. The funding is here. All they’ve got to do is go through regulations, figure out scheduling, and build the stations. It’s really exciting for me because the Atlanta-Chattanooga corridor has been one of the best most obvious spots for transit expansion in the whole Southeast. High traffic, an explosion in suburban and exurban growth, a diversifying economy… You could take a whole lotta cars off the road, and give non-drivers a lot more opportunities, just by connecting the Chattanooga Airport with the Atlanta Airport and some stations in between.

Atlanta-Chattanooga had a High Speed Rail study done last decade, but that’s of course a very expensive and long-term project; a normal Amtrak route just makes use of the existing tracks for a low-speed, low-stakes local train. (You know I love high-speed rail but it’s a big investment!)

But so far, I have to say, be more ambitious, Amtrak. Come on.

Check the current Amtrak Connects Us proposal for Atlanta-Chattanooga-Nashville. It’s… lacking.

be ambitious amtrak

Two trips a day???

How many cars will it take off the road to do just two trips a day???

I mean, it’s better than zero, but… What happens if you are a commuter and you miss the train? What happens if you’re trying to go to the airport and you miss the train? I know this is par for the course for Amtrak’s long-distance trips, but this isn’t really a long-distance trip at just three hours between Atlanta and Chattanooga.

(3 hours is a long time, but remember most people aren’t going to be traveling from end to end. Most of the travel is gonna be people in the outlying cities traveling into the downtowns or between two exurbs in the middle. It’ll be less than an hour for most people’s trips.)

I have to beg you to be more ambitious, Amtrak. I’m gonna emphasize that a lot, not only because that’s this article’s SEO keyword. But because it’s worth hammering in.

Public transit gets underfunded and ignored because the service isn’t robust enough to meet people’s daily needs. Then it can’t grow to meet those needs because there isn’t enough funding or focus. A vicious cycle where it’s difficult to improve.

But, thanks to the two big federal spending bills in 2021 and 2022, Amtrak has TENS OF BILLIONS to spend on improving its service nationwide. And it would be extremely smart to tackle this stuff head-on, not tepidly stepping in with the risk that it doesn’t catch on and fades away.

be ambitious amtrak

The route here is just not cutting it so far. There’s only 6 stations, just simply not enough to make this a true regional rail line.

The stations, from south to north:

  • Atlanta Airport
  • Downtown Atlanta
  • Marietta
  • Cartersville
  • Dalton
  • Chattanooga Airport

The entire route here is about 200km, or 120 miles. To compare, that’s about the same distance as the JR train route between Nagoya and Kyoto and Osaka. That line, however, doesn’t have six stations. It has FIFTY.

To be very fair, this is also a massively denser area than Atlanta-Chattanooga; this route has a whole lot of rural areas with small exurban pockets, while Nagoya-Kyoto-Osaka is densely packed with an unending suburban gradient (and actually the entire line between Tokyo and Kobe is like that).

But, really. This route is gonna be three hours long. You really ought to have a few more stations. Be more ambitious, Amtrak!

Luckily, we can literally physically look at the route that already exists and extrapolate here with Google Maps. It’s not difficult to find a much better route map. Here’s my rough proposal for a station list that mixes commuters for work, university, nature/tourism, and just local community activity.

The idea is the train would run, at first, once every two hours from, IDK, 5am to 9pm, plus extra rapid trains at approximately 7am and 5pm (two for each rush hour), along with a twice-daily super-express train that’s more expensive but can get you from Atlanta to Chattanooga in as fast as a non-high-speed rail will allow. All in all, it’d run about 13 times a day. A pipe dream compared to the current twice-daily proposal, but it’s the only way it would be a huge success.

You can follow along with my Be More Ambitious Amtrak proposal on Google maps! Just follow the train-looking line north.

The bold stations are the rapid train stops, while the asterisks are the super-express.

Be more ambitious, Amtrak. Adopt something like this, with a whopping 30+ stations. Shoot for the stars! You don’t have to START like that, but you should plan for it, announce it, publicize it. Get people on-board (hehe) mentally and emotionally so they can bully the local governments into approving it all, so it’ll be a huge event when it does eventually launch even with just 7-8 stations at first.

The real cost here, the thing that will make this entire endeavor much more expensive, isn’t even building all the stations and hiring the workers. It’s that this line is currently mostly a narrow one-track line. With freight and passenger trains sharing space, and with passenger trains supposed to go in both directions, that’s sure to cause problems. The line needs to be double-tracked or triple-tracked as much as possible, and that will be expensive as hell to accomplish.

Once it’s done, it’ll be a boon to the entire North Georgia region, but it will require a lot more work than just plopping stations down on the existing track. If we do that, that’s how we will end up with a line that is nice for weekend travel or long-distance journeys between Atlanta and Memphis or Nashville, but not for daily use.

I’m not enough of a train nerd to say that my proposals would actually work; I’m not well-researched enough to see the fatal flaws, and you’re free to point them out. But I’m mainly writing this to plead with Amtrak to be more feisty, to show America that we can still ACCOMPLISH things. For the benefit of future generations, we need really good train transit, and 6 stations just isn’t going to spark any enthusiasm.

Related Posts

Leave a Reply