Possible rail line from Savannah to Atlanta might get a tiny nudge forward

In late 2012, I noted Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s enthusiasm for a high speed rail (HSR) line from Savannah to Atlanta.

In a followup post, I gave a little more background about the long-range vision for HSR.

Walter Jones of Morris News Service has now written Bill would set up study of Atlanta-Savannah rail line. From that piece:

A Savannah legislator is pushing a bill that would create a committee to study the viability of a high-speed rail line between Atlanta and the coast.

Rep. Craig Gordon, D-Savannah, said he hopes to get support from the mayors of Atlanta, Macon and Savannah. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has often advocated for a line to link the cities as a way for Atlanta to exploit the expanded cargo expected to move through the Port of Savannah with the deepening of the Savannah River shipping channel.

Gordon said the rail line would capitalize on the federal and state funds going into the deepening project.

It’s an interesting piece, in which Gordon notes a significant Republican co-sponsor.

But it’s also worth noting that there’s something of a muddle here.

When talking about HSR, we’re usually focusing on moving people, not cargo. While there are express deliveries that might take advantage of HSR, most cargo can move on the slower lines just fine. HSR is largely about connecting people, ideas, and human capital, while minimizing time wasted on highway travel.

Kasim Reed’s comments on HSR have always implied that he’s talking about people, not cargo. So it’s a little hard to mesh those ideas with Gordon’s desire to leverage port expansion money (if any materializes).

For more on the cargo vs. people need, check out this interesting discussion in Pacific Standard magazine about the different priorities in Europe and the U.S. From that article:

Where freight and high-speed passenger trains use the same track, of course, they don’t mix well, for the same reason that a Porsche on the highway can’t move fast if it gets stuck behind a semi. So The Economist last year argued that more high-speed rail in America could actually harm the U.S. rail-cargo network, which it described as “one of the unsung transport successes of the past 30 years … universally recognized in the industry as the best in the world.”

There won’t be a problem on new and largely dedicated high-speed lines like the one planned for California. But it will get complicated on the not-quite-as-high-speed, “inter-city” passenger lines planned for the Pacific Northwest and Midwestern cities around Chicago.

Right now, American cargo trains can move flexibly, sometimes without a strict time schedule, according to customer demand. If they share the rails with too many passenger trains, they’ll need to be more strictly organized, with expensive new train-control systems.

So maybe all we can hope for this year is for Georgians, including legislators and the press, to get a better handle on the specific issues inherent with various proposals.

Still, let’s keep steaming ahead.