FAIRVIEW, Tenn. (WKRN) — Tom Nichol doesn’t have a car. He pretty much walks everywhere unless it’s a really long distance.
“I’ve always had to go primarily by bus,” he said. “They did have passenger air service to Chattanooga some years ago, but that’s been discontinued.”
Nichol’s family has a past in the rail industry. His paternal grandfather, William L. Nichol, Jr. was the general freight agent for the Nashville-Chattanooga-Saint Louis Railway when it still functioned.
“Passenger rail service is a part of my family’s history,” Nichol said.
He still remembers the first and only time he stepped into Nashville’s Union Station when it was still servicing passenger rail. That was in the 1960s. “The sheer scale and scope and architecture of the station has always stuck with me.”
Though it might not be at Union Station, Nichol, now 70, might step into another passenger rail station in Tennessee.
Earlier this year, the state sent a letter to the Federal Rail Administration saying, in part, “There is great interest in Tennessee when it comes to passenger rail.”
“We certainly are looking at that, it needs to be multimodal, whatever we do,” TDOT Commissioner Butch Eley said. “Roads are not the only answer.”
It’s no secret in Tennessee that traffic is a problem—this rail proposal could help somewhat alleviate that.
“It’s time to look elsewhere and maybe look to the past a little bit and revisit rail,” Rep. John Ray Clemmons (D-Nashville) said.
State leaders have discussed rail lines from Nashville to Memphis and Chattanooga and, eventually, Knoxville and Johnson City. Even as recently as 2022, Amtrak unveiled a plan that included a line from Nashville to Chattanooga with stops in Tullahoma and Murfreesboro.
The idea itself is bipartisan.
“One of the biggest mistakes a lot of states made decades ago was removing all the rail access that ran across their state,” Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) said.
To this day, Nichol has never been on a train, and Nashville hasn’t had passenger rail since 1979. But he hopes that experience comes soon.
“I would be thrilled if that happened,” he said. “I have been told by friends in my church that there is nothing as relaxing as a long-distance train ride.”