26.9.07

A SECOND GREAT LOCOMOTIVE CHASE. But the Andrews Raiders never had a Neubaustrecke to cut.

So today the municipal, state and business leaders of Atlanta and Chattanooga are taking a serious step toward pursuing the high-speed rail option. The Georgia Department of Transportation and Tennessee Department of Transportation are teaming up to prepare a Tier 1 Environmental Impact Statement for a proposed High Speed Ground Transportation corridor between Chattanooga and Atlanta.

Several corridors are being studied:

Two would attempt to follow I-75 to Atlanta, one in the median of the interstate, the other would be just outside the boundaries of the highway for increased speeds.

Two others are designed for maximum speed: One would go through Rome, GA., west of I-75, the other would parallel U.S. Highway 411 east of I-75.

Proponents are looking for the possibility of speeds reaching 200 to 300 mph.

The distance between the two cities is approximately 125 miles. A consultant to the project, Karl Schaarschmidt said that the route chosen for the rail will determine the length of time it will take to travel between Chattanooga and Atlanta. “I estimate 60 minutes with a route that has just one intermediate station (like Rome) versus 90 minutes for a route that goes through downtown Atlanta and stops four times before getting to the airport.”

The mayor of Chattanooga, Ron Littlefield, has long been a proponent of high-speed rail between the two cities. It has to become a reality, he said, “or Chattanoogans will choke (to a standstill) on the traffic.” He said that traffic on these highways is expected to triple even before the railway can be built.

The terrain between the two cities is not the most conducive to building such a railroad, although the Japanese Shinkansen and the aforementioned German line aren't exactly through the sand country of Wisconsin either.

The project, however, appears to be a case of chasing two hares. On one hand, everybody expects the existing roads to become even more choked with traffic, and the high speed train will beat drive times. (As a point of comparison, the Louisville and Nashville's Georgian used to make the run in just over three hours possibly with intermediate stops.) On the other, the project may be a way to ameliorate congestion and delays at Atlanta's airport.

The crowding at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson airport, one of the busiest in the world, is getting steadily worse, causing many delays and unhappy customers. For years, officials have believed that a new airport in Chattanooga would be the solution. But these days, they are hard-put to settle on building a new airport when the head of a major airline, Delta’s new CEO Richard Anderson, says it is a dumb idea.

The impracticality is obvious to aviation experts. As Anderson noted, 70 to 75 percent of Hartsfield-Jackson’s passengers are simply changing planes. An airport in Chattanooga would be so far away, a rail connection between the two airports would be a necessity. Imagine requiring passengers to ride a train to or from Chattanooga just to change planes!! said Anderson.

I put a harder question to the airlines: if so much of the traffic at a hub airport is people changing planes, why not design an airport explicitly as a hub airport with little in the way of passenger parking, car rental facilities, and all the other attendant clutter, and locate it somewhere other than a destination in its own right? On the other hand, the way connection delays sometimes cascade at the major hub airports, two hours gate-to-gate, with one hour on a train (particularly if equipped with a bar car) can be no worse than two hours schlepping through one airport and making do with the airport bar or the chain-store food services. Put that way, the Rio-Atlanta-Chattanooga-San Francisco connection doesn't look so silly. But, again, there's no real reason to have a hub airport in a major city (hence the continued interest in Peotone) if most of the passengers are simply changing planes. So why mix transferring passengers with originating and terminating passengers, as is the case with O'Hare and Hartsfield and the Cities and to a lesser extent Detroit and Denver? Then there's that whole matter of Delta. Why should the taxpayers of Atlanta or Chattanooga or Georgia or Tennessee spend public moneys on an airport project that makes Delta's connectivity a bit less painful? Let Mr Anderson build his own hub airport.

No comments: