Amtrak Trying to Talk Tennessee Into Funding Service

Amtrak officials were in Tennessee recently to talk up the prospect of establishing new intercity rail passenger service there.

That would include a route between Atlanta and Nashville via Chattanooga and possibly daylight service between Chicago and Memphis.

The latter could involve extending operations of the Chicago-Carbondale, Illinois, Illini and Saluki to Memphis.

Those trains are currently funded by the Illinois Department of Transportation.

Chattanooga has never had Amtrak service and Nashville has been off the Amtrak map since the Chicago-Miami/St. Petersburg Floridian was discontinued in October 1979.

Tennessee House Transportation Committee Chairman Dan Howell said the state is interested in the proposed services but said at this point they are just proposals.

“Amtrak came to us so there’s interest there,” he said. “But there’s a lot of moving parts. It’s like putting a puzzle together.”

Howell said he discussed the proposal with Gov. Bill Lee and has met with Tennessee Department of Transportation Commissioner Clay Bright and TDOT staff as well as Senate Transportation Committee Chair Becky Massey.

Amtrak is seeking to talk Tennessee into funding the service, which might also include cross-state service between Memphis and Nashville.

In his presentation to the House Transportation Committee, Amtrak’s senior director of government affairs, Ray Lang, said if a train costs $100 to operate and makes $75 in revenue the state pays the difference.

Lang said the expected deficit for Nashville-Atlanta service would be $3 million annually.

Rep. Jason Powell said he will introduce a bill to study the feasibility of Amtrak service in Tennessee.

“While discussions are still very much in the preliminary stages, the potential of a possible Nashville to Atlanta train is obvious,” Powell said. “Easing the way to get back and forth between these two major cities could be a game-changer for both and all of the potential stops in between.

Powell said the study he has proposed would examine feasibility, costs and infrastructure.

“I do feel this plan has promise, but I recognize it is a long-range goal and greatly depends upon Congressional approval of the upcoming [federal] surface transportation bill,” Howell said.

Even if Tennessee were to agree to provide funding, the proposed service is four to five years away.

Intercity rail passenger service in Chattanooga ended on May 1, 1971, when Louisville & Nashville Nos. 3 and 4, the former Georgian, between Atlanta and Evansville, Indiana, were discontinued with the coming of Amtrak.

This train operated between Evansville and St. Louis as Nos. 5 and 10 but was shown in timetables separately. At one time the Georgian also operated to Chicago.

Nor was there any discussion about what demands the host railroads would make to agree to handle the trains.

One news story referenced high capital costs to restart passenger service between Nashville and Atlanta but didn’t give any cost figures.

Memphis is the only major Tennessee city with intercity rail service. It lies on the route of Amtrak’s City of New Orleans between Chicago and New Orleans.

Nos. 58 and 59 are currently scheduled for overnight operation between Chicago and Memphis.

The Tennessean of Nashville polled its readers about which cities they would want to travel to by train.

Chicago received 25 percent of the votes with Atlanta getting nearly 18 percent.

A story published by the Tennessean indicated that Amtrak is eyeing the Nashville-Atlanta route because the carrier is seeking to serve metropolitan areas that are growing.

“Our route map doesn’t really reflect where the nation’s population has shifted to — places like Nashville, Louisville, Columbus and Las Vegas that we don’t serve at all,” said Lang during the meeting with Tennessee lawmakers. “We have to do something to change the Amtrak network. Otherwise we’ll just wither away.”

Lang said Amtrak is proposing twice-daily service between Nashville and Atlanta that would have a six-and-a-half hour schedule.

Intermediate stops would include Nashville International Airport, Murfreesboro, Tullahoma and Chattanooga.

Lang also floated the prospect of starting a route between Nashville and Memphis.

Amtrak’s current five year plan makes providing service to Nashville a priority.

“The Nashville, TN metropolitan area is ranked the seventh fastest growing city yet Nashville is only served by Thruway bus, generally in the middle of the night,” the plan states.

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One Response to “Amtrak Trying to Talk Tennessee Into Funding Service”

  1. Clifford Edwards Says:

    IDOT funded trains & a proposal to extend the funding to Memphis. My proposal is to discontinue the stop in Fulton KY, to be replaced with a “new” stop in Martin TN, home of UT-Martin who’s student body numbers average 20,000 annually. The potential for a tremendous increase in Amtrak revenue is here in Martin.

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