Tomlinson: High speed rail line to be economic catalyst for Colu - WTVM.com-Columbus, GA News Weather & Sports

Tomlinson: High speed rail line to be economic catalyst for Columbus

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COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) -

A new high speed rail line to connect Columbus, Newnan and Atlanta could create about 11,000 jobs in Columbus, and about 40,000 jobs across the state, according to Mayor Teresa Tomlinson.

"By the Federal Rail Administration Standards, you consider about 11,000 direct jobs for every billion dollars of transportation money expanded," Tomlinson said. "So we figure we will take about a third of that, so we are looking at about 11,000 jobs in this region alone."

Tomlinson visited Washington D.C. Wednesday, Aug. 13, to discuss the rail line project that has been in works for the past 15 months. She said a national firm called HNTB conducted a study, and concluded that the rail line would be most profitable during its first year of service.

"We would make about $5 million the first year, and this will allow us to pay any bond or loan payments," Tomlinson said. "We expect to have about 1.1 million trips made in the first year on the line. We will have one track with eight electronic trains making about six trips per day. It'll also travel up to 220 mph."

Tomlinson said riders will be able to travel from Atlanta to Newnan in about 12 minutes, and Atlanta to Columbus would only take about 60 minutes.

"We expect this to be a private-public partnership," Tomlinson explained. "This is not something that the federal state, and certainly the local tax payers, are going to have to worry about. This has to be a partnership of our federal and state funds, and also private interest corporation foundations."

The high speed rail line would create multiple opportunities for those living in Atlanta, Newnan and Columbus.

"People can travel to different cities faster," Tomlinson said. "It could also allow those living in Atlanta to get a job here in Columbus and vice versa."

She also explained the rail is something Fort Benning is also excited about.

"It would give us direct access to a major mode of deploying our troops," Tomlinson explained. "Right now, they have people going back and forth in a shuttle. The rail line would be another means to doing that. It would be cost competitive for them. It's $41 for one way for everyone."

Tomlinson said many leaders she met in Washington D.C. were excited about the rail line project.

"We were the only delegation there. They are excited about our experience with public-private partnerships," Tomlinson said. "I think they think that Columbus is a good bet for this. They are interested to see how serious we are about it. We look forward to getting those grants to move up the next level."

The NEPA study, which is an environmental impact study, would need to present a grant in order to advance the rail line project.

"The NEPA study would be between $3.5 million and $4 million, so we are looking for grant money to pay for that," Tomlinson said. "Some of that would be federal grant money and their grants are available as early as September of this year. We expect to be applying for a $4 million grant from the NEPA study by spring of 2015."

This rail line project would also help The Columbus Airport.

"One of the most exciting aspects of this project is that it would make Columbus the sixth runway for the Atlanta International Airport," Tomlinson explained. "They've been looking for a sixth runway outside of their airspace, and Columbus is out of their airspace. If we can connect our airports, Columbus airport to Atlanta airport would be getting overflow from Atlanta, and we would no doubt take on additional carriers. This is great news for our airport. Right now, we are somewhat underutilized. We can have up to about five carriers, but we only have one carrier. If we can get this high speed rail line going, I have no doubt that we would be able to have five carriers in Columbus."

Tomlinson said she expects to have the rail line established in Columbus by 2030.

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