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VOL. 35 | NO. 27 | Friday, July 8, 2011




Group gets support, no money for train interstate

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KNOXVILLE (AP) — A group proposing a national highway system for trains has been getting endorsements from public officials in Tennessee and other Southeastern states, but they have yet to get any public or private funds committed to the project.

About 50 local governments, mostly in Virginia and Tennessee, have passed resolutions calling on Congress to fund a study of the pilot project that calls for a rail system between Memphis and Harrisburg, Pa. That pilot project has an estimated cost of $2 billion to $5 billion.

A.L. "Pete" Lotts, a board member of RAIL Solution, the group behind the proposal, told The Knoxville News Sentinel that they met with lawmakers and legislative staff in Washington, D.C., this May to pitch the study that would cost about $5 million.

"The reaction we got mostly was, 'This is a really great idea and it looks like it has a lot of merit. How are we going to get the money to do it?' "

Lotts is a retired Oak Ridge National Laboratory director and former Knox County school board member. He said the group would like the study to be performed by the Tennessee Department of Transportation or transportation centers at the University of Tennessee or Virginia Tech.

The steel interstate system is described as a rail alternative to the interstate highways that link the country that can move people and freight fast enough to be competitive with long-haul trucks.

It wouldn't be as high speed as rail systems in Europe or Asia, but would allow for a point-to-point average speed of 90 mph for passenger trains, 70 mph for intermodal trains and 60 mph for general freight. The plan also calls for a multitrack system with separate passenger and freight tracks that would run through less densely populated areas and ideally would be electric.

The pilot project is a proposed 1,000-mile route from Memphis to Harrisburg and could be developed as part of Norfolk Southern's Crescent Corridor, a planned 2,500-mile route linking the Gulf Coast to New England. The railroad, however, is not warm to the idea of having RAIL Solution's project as a part of their corridor.

"Norfolk Southern is very confident that we can successfully design and construct the Crescent Corridor without the involvement of RAIL Solution," said Rudy Husband, a Norfolk Southern corporate spokesman told the newspaper via email.

Lotts said he understands that Norfolk Southern is not enthusiastic about his group's pilot project. He believes the railroad is concerned that if the pilot project were a public/private effort, then the railroad would lose some control over the Crescent Corridor.

But Lotts said he thinks the key is for government leaders to promote the idea.

"I think Norfolk Southern will talk more positive about it if the state will start talking to them more positive about it," he said.

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