NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — It was such a small piece of a larger meeting, you easily could have missed it.
“The state has submitted an identification application to the Federal Rail Administration (FRA) for service from Memphis east to Nashville, on to Chattanooga, and to Atlanta,” Amtrak CEO Stephen J. Gardner said.
Gardner fielded questions from congressional members, including Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Memphis) during a Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing on Tuesday.
But now, four cities – Memphis, Nashville, Chattanooga, and Atlanta – have sent the aforementioned ‘identification application’ to the FRA. Following that, the Tennessee Dept. of Transportation (TDOT) sent a letter of support to the same entity, which WKRN News 2 obtained and you can read below.
“I would like to submit this letter of support for passenger rail services throughout the state of Tennessee,” TDOT Commissioner Butch Eley wrote, in part. “At this time as we are waiting on the General Assembly’s TACIR commissioned report; however, the Department remains committed to taking a holistic approach to the mobility of its citizens.”
The Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (TACIR) is due to submit a report on passenger rail next month.
The study came after several lawmakers, Rep. Jason Powell (D-Nashville), co-sponsored legislation requiring it.
“There is a glaring gap in the middle of our state, and in Amtrak nationally, right here in Nashville,” said Powell.
He added Nashville is the third-largest city in the country without passenger rail while Chattanooga is 19th. The same ranking he referenced has the Tri-Cities at 23rd.
“We’re talking billions of dollars that are available through the Federal Infrastructure Act,” Powell said. “We are paying those dollars through taxpayers.”
A line connecting Memphis to Nashville and Chattanooga (and eventually on to Atlanta) is one that has the attention of Amtrak.
“That’s a very interesting corridor, one that holds a lot of promise,” Gardner said. “The process now will be for the FRA to consider those applications for the Corridor Development Program.”
If the FRA were to approve that rail corridor, Gardner said it would begin to receive seed funding.
The line is a potential popular spot because railroads owned by CSX already exist. Powell said potential stops between Nashville and Chattanooga could include Murfreesboro, Shelbyville, and Tullahoma.
But earlier this week, TDOT officials told WKRN News 2 that rail negotiations are often sensitive because it requires a private company (like CSX) to cede some of its line (or at least allow its use) for passenger rail.
That doesn’t mean it’s impossible though—TDOT said it remains optimistic for intercity rail throughout the state.
The department’s full statement:
“Back in March we provided a letter of support for the City of Chattanooga’s application for a route linking the Tennessee cities of Memphis, Nashville, Chattanooga, as well as Atlanta, Georgia to be included in the Corridor Identification and Development (Corridor ID) Program. TDOT may also support additional corridors for inclusion from other applicants within the state as we explore intercity rail in Tennessee. At this time as we are waiting on the General Assembly’s TACIR commissioned report on the potential for passenger rail service. The department remains committed to taking a holistic approach to the mobility of its citizens.“
Eventually, Powell said the goal is to make the first connection between Nashville and Chattanooga before expanding to Memphis and Atlanta. From there, he’d like to see another line connecting Knoxville, the Tri-Cities, and Nashville.