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Monday, August 17, 2009

Passenger Rail Coming to Huntsville?

There was an interesting article in Sunday's Montgomery Advertiser. It seems there is some interest in bringing intercity passenger rail service back to several Alabama cities. Since Katrina, Amtrak has run only one route, the Crescent, through the state, stopping at stations in Tuscaloosa, Birmingham, and Anniston on the way between New Orleans and New York. Amtrak has shown interest in bringing back service between Mobile and Birmingham, a route that ran as the Gulf Breeze between 1989 and 1995. It would be part of a plan to increase Amtrak service in the Southeast region, which the rail company believes is "underserved."

According to the Advertiser, a state passenger rail plan is being developed using stimulus funds by the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA). In most states, the state DOT performs this study, but ALDOT legally can't do it, as seen with a proposed regional feasibility study of a high-speed rail line between Atlanta and New Orleans. Thank your state Constitution of 1901 for that bit of ignorance.

So, what would this mean for Huntsville? According to Huntsville's long-term transportation plan, there have been preliminary studies on introducing a Huntsville-Birmingham passenger rail service. But they were done back when Amtrak wasn't doing too great financially, and wasn't looking to expand service. Maybe now they would be more eager to start such a route. A north-south passenger rail service through the state could also be extended to Nashville, another city that currently lacks Amtrak service.

And here's another idea-- you know that "Memphis-Huntsville-Atlanta highway" pipe dream that's never going to get built? How about looking into an electrified high-speed freight/passenger rail line between the three cities? It would be cheaper, more fuel-efficient, and faster than a highway. Think about it: right now, it takes about 4 hours to (legally) get from Huntsville to Atlanta via highway. A direct highway would get you there in about 2 1/2, if you don't get stuck in traffic. A high-speed rail line, even with a low average speed of 85 mph, could make the trip in less than 2 hours-- and no traffic.

Finally, a little bit of trivia: the last time there was regular passenger rail service to Huntsville was in 1968. However, an Amtrak service called the Floridian stopped in Decatur until 1979.

More info:
Southern High Speed Rail Commission
Federal Railroad Administration: Passenger Rail


Mari said...

Pardon me boy, is that the Rocket City Choo Choo?

Hah. But seriously, i would totaly take a train to Atlanta rather than a car. heck, if I had the funds, I'd fly there if I could, but that's too expensive. Trains are a great and innexpensive way to get from place to place, and it sounds like an excellent idea for an alternative to the proposed superhighway. I would love being able to get to and from Atlanta in 2 hours, it would allow me to go way more often! Besides, when I go there, I hate bringing my car anyway.

Also, I was always confused growing up as to why Huntsville had a railroad museum. But if something like this goes through, it'll actualy have a purpose again! Haha.

Androo402 said...

This may help the taxi service in these towns too. People taking the Amtrak service to ATL for say the SEC championship or other things, would need a taxi to get from the Amtrak station to a hotel or the Georgia Dome...as well as other cities involved in this Amtrak railway.
I like it.

James said...

@Mari: Huntsville has a fairly significant railroad history, not as storied as Birmingham or Chattanooga, but still pretty good considering Huntsville was just a small town through most of the "golden age" of railroads. The Louisville and Nashville (L&N) and Southern railways crossed here. Both lines are still visible, and somewhat active. The Southern line, which is now the NS line, was part of the first railroad to link the Atlantic with the Mississippi River. The Huntsville Depot was used during the Civil War as a prison/command center (?) for the Union Army.

Also, we have 2 railroad museums-- the Depot and the North Alabama Railroad Museum in Chase.

Anonymous said...

Even though it really only takes about 3 hours to get to Atlanta (via Chattanooga) I would take a train if I could. Same goes for New Orleans or Destin/Panama City Beach.

Veronica D. King said...

Ohhhh I would love to take a train to B'ham, or Atlanta. I think they should definitely do it. With all this stimulus spending it would provide jobs and help to green the south.

I think thats what the new - US owned GM should do. We should re-invest in the rail system. So like most of Europe, travel within and across states would be much more convenient and safe.

Dennis said...

What a dream come true! Amtrak to Huntsville. That would be fabulous!

Jordan said...

At first, it might sound crazy for car companies to support the railroad industry. That's not so surprising when you consider that there are only two major locomotive manufacturers in the US. One is GE, and the other is EMD - the Electro-Motive Division of General Motors. GM and the railroad are already somewhat intertwined!

Howard said...

In my experience, it's usually more expensive and slower to use mass transit than taking your own car. I believe the larger obstacle for mass transit is convincing people why they should still use it even when they have an option not to. Would you still take the train to Atlanta if it took six hours and cost $40 per person?