Railroad nixes passenger trains at 'Gulch' Terminal

ATLANTA -- Less than a year ago, there was a lot of buzz surrounding Atlanta's "gulch," a blighted area near the CNN Center and the Georgia Dome.

For more than two decades, planners have been dreaming of a new, modern transportation hub there.

Last July, President Obama, along with Mayor Kasim Reed promised to fast track the project that could become the city's "Grand Central Station."

"This is another block in our future. The multi-modal system is going to bring more transit and greater connectivity and give us more energy as the economic center of the South," Reed said.

But now those plans are hitting a big speed bump. Money is going out the door, but the "dream" terminal may be stalled on the tracks.

After spending millions of dollars on engineering and design studies, there is a new twist for the multi-modal passenger terminal (MMPT) in "The Gulch."

It could be missing a major element -- passenger trains.

Norfolk Southern, owner of the land and the tracks threw a curve ball at the Georgia DOT just as they were about to launch a $500,000 capacity study, on top of more than $12 million DOT has already spent.

In a letter to the DOT, Norfolk Southern was blunt:

"There is insufficient available Norfolk Southern right-of-way in and about the City of Atlanta, (generally inside the Interstate 285 Perimeter) to add passenger service."

But GDOT says passenger trains are still an option.

"Just because we are in the midst of this capacity study doesn't mean rail is off the table, absolutely not off the table," Natalie Dale of the Georgia DOT said.

Outside the Perimeter perhaps, but not at the Gulch.

Norfolk Southern told 11Alive News that downtown simply would not work.

Despite the setback, GDOT says its moving ahead, reminiscent of the glory days when downtown Atlanta had a huge rail terminal that stood until 1970.

"If rail was behind and MMPT had to launch with pedestrian options, bike options, car options, bus options that's not a loss for us, rail will come later," Dale added.

The head of Georgians for Passenger Rail says there is a solution to get passenger trains in the multi-modal terminal -- reroute the freight trains.

"Maybe a lot of these trains should bypass Atlanta, just like a lot of truck traffic should be bypassing Atlanta. It's the same issue with freight railroads."

While the plan is off track now, GDOT says it does have another option despite the millions already spent: Don't build the Terminal. For now, they say that one is on the back burner.


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