All aboard for Atlanta to Athens rail link


As federal stimulus dollars find their way into Georgia, we should all keep a close eye on where the money goes. Take a look at and click on the map to see what Georgia is doing with a few billion dollars. Among other projects, roads get $932 million and public transportation gets $144 million.

Those road and transit numbers ought to be reversed. If road widening projects effectively reduced traffic congestion, then Atlanta commuters would have smooth sailing. Instead, our multiple lane highways are hopelessly clogged. And while we wring our hands and wail about our endless traffic problems, one of the most promising local transportation solutions has yet to be addressed.

Consider Athens, Ga., home of the University of Georgia, Athens Tech, Gainesville State, Piedmont College, the Carl Vinson Institute, and more. Athens is home to more than 60,000 students and professionals who frequently travel between Athens and the greater Atlanta area. Yet no public transportation venue exists between the two cities.

Want to get tens of thousands of drivers off Atlanta’s highway system? Install a rail line between Atlanta and Athens. A rail system between Atlanta and Athens would mean sweet relief for students, professionals, researchers, politicians, sports fans, graduates, and families.

The vast majority of students in Athens come from the metro Atlanta area. What parent of a college student doesn’t wish that their child could keep their car parked, stay off the highways, and take the train to Atlanta when they want to come home?

I have two children who attend UGA. They each return home to Fayette County an average of four times per year. Additionally, I visit Athens an average of three times per year. In my family alone, this adds up to 11 round trips, or 22 treks through downtown Atlanta and traversing I-85, Ga. Highway 316, and all points in between. I would give my eye teeth to be able to hop a train from, say, downtown Atlanta or Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, destined for Athens.

Consider football weekends in Athens, when tens of thousands of fans clog the highways for two solid days to cheer for the Dawgs. While a few fans would still opt to park their RVs close to campus, thousands of us would take happy advantage of a train ride to the big game.

Imagine the seminal Georgia-Auburn or Georgia-Georgia Tech match-ups, in which the thousands of Auburn or Tech fans could hop a train in Atlanta to make their journey to Athens. Gymnastics, baseball, softball, tennis, and other sports at all of the Athens schools would benefit with an increased fan base due to an easy ride from Atlanta for their many fans.

Graduation season is now underway. Tens of thousands of metro Atlantans will flock to Athens to see their children graduate. The vast majority of them, myself included, would love to ride the train to our family celebrations.

Athens-based students drive to Atlanta to enjoy Braves games, Hawks games, shopping, concerts, and other events. Let’s provide a rail system and make sure these young people stay off the highways when they return to their dorms and apartments late at night. (It’s no wonder Hwy. 316 is the most fatal stretch of highway in the entire state.)

In the 1980s, I attended Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wis., where thousands of my schoolmates made their round trips home to Chicago on the train. By this metric, Georgia is about 35 years behind the times.

Is anybody home under the Gold Dome? The closest Georgia has come to implementing real public transportation solutions is suggesting a rail line from Atlanta to – get this – Lovejoy.

It’s time we get a vision for the future of transportation throughout our state. What should the role of public transportation be 20 years from now? 50 years from now? Does anyone truly believe that more road widening projects are a long-term solution?

If Georgia ever gets serious about unclogging our highways, reducing accidents, cleaning our air, keeping drunk drivers off the roads, and improving public safety for all, we will implement this much-needed and long-awaited rail line.

[Kimberly Learnard is an electrical engineer who holds a master’s degree in education from the University of Georgia. A Fayette County mother of three, she teaches adults through a state training program.]

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Submitted by UGA parent on Wed, 06/03/2009 - 3:59pm.

Thank you for the article on this topic.
We don't live in the Atlanta area, but agree with your thoughts on why there should be a rail system between the two cities.
Here's a link to the "Georgia Brain Train" site:
Please read the suggestions on what you can do to make this happen.
It takes just a few minutes to contact your elected officials to voice your opinion. With all the new federal funding, it's time for Georgians to demand a bigger piece of the pie for public transportation and see this project come to fruition!

Submitted by GATech04 on Wed, 06/03/2009 - 3:46pm.

Your reasons for an Athens to Atlanta rail seem to imply that Athens has the traffic problem. The problem is Monday through Friday in Atlanta, not on UGA gamedays, weekend trips for a couple thousand carpooling college students, and certainly not for thrice annual migrations to watch graduation in Athens. Rail from Athens to Atlanta would only reduce some traffic from Gwinnett (and not that much if you're talking high speed rail with no intermediate stops).

How about figuring out how to get people to use MARTA for their daily commute and make it more useful to professionals outside of getting us to the airport? We need the number of cars reduced on I-75 & I-85, not GA-316. There is a reason 316 has 4 lanes and the interstates have 8, 10, and 12. If you can convince 10% of commuters that MARTA isn't worthless, rail in Atlanta may become financially viable.

The Wedge's picture
Submitted by The Wedge on Wed, 06/03/2009 - 3:55pm.

if you are working downtown. It is like spokes of a wheel without the wheel itself. Since most people work on the "wheel" and not at the hub, it doesn't solve our traffic woes. Other cities mass transit, like Chicago are much more effective because they tie the suburbs together as well

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