Travel time between Atlanta and Charlotte can be cut in half according to a proposal that outlines three high-speed rail options between the two largest cities of the "Piedmont Atlantic Megaregion."
Georgia's Department of Transportation will host an open house Oct. 22 to solicit public feedback on the Tier I Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), which details the proposed rail lines. The DEIS was prepared in collaboration with the Federal Railroad Administration and the North and South Carolina Departments of Transportation.
GDOT spokesman Scott Higley said the DEIS is "a key part of the process that helps us and the Federal Railroad Administration determine how feasible a project like this really is."
Public input and environmental impact are the two major considerations when government agencies decide which of the proposed corridors will move forward, Higley said.
Rapid population growth and in Atlanta, Charlotte and Greenville, South Carolina will make the project necessary, according to the DEIS. But cost and speed estimates for each of the proposed lines vary considerably.
The cheapest option is also the slowest. Dubbed the "Southern Crescent," it would run on the existing Amtrak line with stops at Gainesville and Clemson, South Carolina, and cost an estimated $2 billion. With top speeds of 110 miles per hour and 13 total stops, trips would take about five hours and serve between 900,000 and 1.2 million people. The trains would run on diesel.
The two faster options would require building new lines and could run on diesel or electricity.
The I-85 route is the most expensive, at $13 to $15 billion. With top speeds of 180 miles per hour, trips would take about two hours and 45 minutes and serve 5.5 million people annually.
The "Greenfield Corridor" would cost between $6 and $8 billion, reach top speeds of 220 miles per hour and "operate at top speed for the longest duration due to its gentle geometry." It would run through Athens and Anderson, South Carolina.
Trips on the Greenfield Corridor would take between just over two hours and two hours and 45 minutes. It would serve between 5.4 and 6.3 million people annually.
Each route would run through Greenville, South Carolina and begin/end at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and the proposed Charlotte Gateway Station.
The Greenfield and I-85 corridors would substantially cut travel time between the two cities.
Driving from Atlanta to Charlotte on I-85 takes three hours and 45 minutes, according to the DEIS. There are 20 flights per day between the cities; each flight takes a little more than an hour, but that figure does not account for the time spent going through airport security. Amtrak offers one overnight round trip, which takes five hours. Bus companies offer an average of 12 rides per day which take about 5 hours as well.
The 45-day public comment period ends Nov. 4. The Federal Railroad Administration and GDOT will eventually choose one of the three proposed corridors.
Higley said the process was lengthy and was "not a matter of months." Whether it moves into the next, more thorough round of evaluation depends on whether a source of funding can be identified.
"Should funding for further study become available, FRA and GDOT will then evaluate potential alignments ... stations, facilities, and detailed service characteristics in future Tier 2 analysis," the DEIS says.
The Georgia open house will be Oct. 22 at 600 W. Peachtree St. NW in Atlanta from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Additional open houses will be Oct. 23 in Greenville, South Carolina and Oct. 24 in Charlotte.