Music City Star's success breeding contempt

Friday, December 2, 2011, Vol. 35, No. 48
By Joe Morris

In the case of the Music City Star, more isn’t necessarily better. The train is posting record ridership, and its governing body would like to add cars and stops along its existing route and beyond. But when it comes to funding, its success is being used against it.

The commuter train went into service in September 2006 and runs a 32-mile route from Lebanon to Nashville with stops in Donelson, Hermitage, Martha and Mt. Juliet. And despite rising ridership – more than 50 percent of its available seats, on average, are sold now -- both Mt. Juliet and Wilson County officials say they won’t ante up more funding in the next year.

The RTA asked Mt. Juliet, Lebanon and the county to pay $50,000 each annually, but thus far only Lebanon has agreed. Mt. Juliet currently pays $30,000 annually, while Wilson County kicks in $10,000. Compare that to Metro Nashville, which contributes $1.5 million to the train’s $4.57 million annual operating budget, much of which comes from state and federal dollars.

Wilson County officials cite the increased ridership as proof that the train doesn’t need its subsidy. Budgetary constraints also are cited as reasons to maintain the status quo.

But like Lebanon, whose leaders have said the train provides both an identity and economic-growth opportunities, leaders in Franklin are moving ahead with their own plans for rail and/or bus lines despite the

current lean times.