Venture Explores Feasibility of Regional Passenger Rail Service

(September 6, 2011) Studying the feasibility of passenger rail service between Atlanta, Macon and Savannah and inviting business leaders, civic leaders and academics in the region to join a discussion on the topic are the key objectives of a new venture, South by Southeast. Established by Jack R. Simmons, Armstrong associate professor of philosophy, and Katherine Hazard, a Savannah resident and project manager for South by Southeast, the venture invites all interested parties, including faculty and students at colleges and universities in the region to present and debate ideas via the website.

“Our goal is to leverage faculty resources to study the issue and utilize faculty and student research to come up with a viable process and a way to bring passenger rail service along the Savannah-Macon-Atlanta corridor without a huge price tag,” said Simmons. “We want to begin a discussion that involves the universities along the route and start coming up with ideas to reduce cost, build community support and get the political leadership behind the project.”

In addition to contact information and a proposed timeline, the website contains a list of ten proposed projects that are needed and that can be adopted or sponsored by university teams and community organizations. Already, participants and sponsors include Armstrong, Georgia Tech Savannah and the Coastal Heritage Society among others. Tim Echols, a Georgia Public Service Commissioner, is in support of the initiative.

"I serve on the Public Service Commission, which began in Georgia as the Railroad Commission," said Tim Echols. "Passenger rail blanketed our state in those days. It is my hope that rail can experience a revival, especially long routes like Savannah to Atlanta. I applaud the efforts of this team for their exploration efforts."

One of the major challenges is that the existing, privately owned tracks along the route would have to be upgraded to accommodate passenger travel. Simmons and Hazard offer that this and many other projects tied to the initiative present opportunities for community organizations to get involved.

“We want to be able to walk up to legislators and say, ‘Look, we have a bunch of ways in which we can start developing this,'” said Simmons. “We also anticipate that there are issues that we haven't consider and we encourage everyone to say what those are and get involved with that.”

Simmons and Hazard said that the venture could start by setting limited goals, including, for example, the establishment of a weekend-only service catering to business and tourism travelers.

“We think that train travel is inevitable in this country because for energy and environmental reasons, we're just not going to keep pouring more and more vehicles onto the roads,” Simmons said. “The question is when it is going to start happening in Georgia and our goal is to get that discussion started now. We want faculty members along this corridor to be aware about this idea and website and invite them to get involved.”

For more information, visit South by Southeast.