VOL. 116 | NO. 199 | Monday, October 14, 2002
TDOT releases study of statewide railway
Improved statewide rail would open travel options
By SUE PEASE
The Daily News
Imagine a state in which people had an option, other than
using roads, to travel from one end of the state to the other maybe by
hopping a passenger train to ride from Memphis to Nashville.
Or, if businesses needed to ship product from West Tennessee
to East Tennessee, loading it on a railcar rather than a truck.
The Tennessee Department of Transportation is imagining it,
and just released a study indicating building a freight and passenger service
line from Memphis to Bristol, Tenn., reveals cost benefits.
The big benefit would be easing interstate road congestion,
TDOT officials said.
Most people have noticed the impact of freight on the
interstate highway system with the high number of trucks, said Ben Smith, TDOT
director of public transportation, rail and water division.
Large portions of our interstate system have 10,000 trucks
a day on it.
TDOT anticipates congestion on Interstate 81 and Interstate
40 could get so heavy during the next 20 years that the four-lane system would
need to be expanded to six or eight lanes.
Its essential we start looking now if some of that freight
could be moved to the railroad systems, Smith said.
The centerpiece of the entire system would be building a
direct freight and passenger connection from Memphis to Bristol.
The study examines a basic east-west alignment between
Memphis and Knoxville through Nashville.
Rail construction wouldnt be a matter of laying down new
track, but using much of what is already there by enhancing it, while building
a few new sections, primarily 67 miles over the Cumberland plateau where there
is no railroad at all, Smith said.
Rail already in use includes a publicly owned railroad from
Nashville to Algood, the Norfolk Southern railroad from Oliver Springs to
Knoxville and the CSXT line from Memphis to Nashville.
TDOT officials would like to convince freight shippers rail
is a better option, but in order to do so, the railway system needs to show
We have to have higher speeds and better delivery times.
That requires better infrastructure, Smith said.
While much of the railroad system is there, many
enhancements are needed, such as track signs and signals, new elevations,
faster lines, railcars and stations for passenger service.
The entire project would cost about $1.2 billion, Smith
While that sounds like a lot, upgrading lanes on I-81 and
I-40 would exceed $2.4 billion, he said.
Not only could freight shippers benefit, but passengers
could, too, officials said.
The study showed a passenger rail line with the greatest
benefits would connect Louisville, Ky., to Chattanooga, but it would be
difficult to build, because of the interstate coordination needed.
Second on the list was a Memphis to Nashville passenger line.
Smith said the study showed a cost benefit of $1.11 return
for every $1 invested.
Estimated ridership was 114,800 people one way, per year.
The service would use the CSXT line, with many improvements
needed for passenger travel such as stations along the route, new signalization
and additional passenger cars.
If the state gained funding and a project moved smoothly,
Smith said he could see the passenger line built in about five years.
If the entire Memphis to Bristol line fell into place, Smith
estimated the project would take about 15 years to build.
One big issue with such a plan is the railroad project would
use public funds to enhance some of the private railway lines, such as the CSXT
and the Norfolk Southern Railroad, Smith said.
And, such a big change in public policy needs public
backing, he said, which is why TDOT is conducting public hearings to gain
One such hearing is from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Nov. 12 at the
Central Library, 3030 Poplar Ave.
Another detail affecting the plan occurs next summer when
Congress considers reauthorizing the Federal Transportation Act, Smith said.
There is a lot of movement around the country to include
more rail and freight consideration in how the act is structured and how funds
are given out, he said.
Having a plan in place would help gain funds if Congress
does throw support behind increasing rail transportation, Smith said.
While TDOT needs to convince freight shippers rail is a good
way to ship, the trucking industry isnt sure shippers would opt for it.
Chris Burruss, Tennessee Trucking Association president and
chief executive officer, said he wasnt familiar with TDOTs recent study, but
has heard a lot of discussion of shifting transportation from road to rail.
I dont see how that could happen, Burruss said.
While shipping bulk items such as grain and coal make sense,
he said, many businesses use trucks to ship items such as produce, because it
is highly perishable.
Trucks can be used as a means of just in time delivery.
Often, companies think of trucks as a mobile warehouse, getting product to a
stores shelves just in time, instead of storing them in a warehouse, he said.
Rail, in my mind, is a 19th century technology trying to
adapt to a 21st century economy, Burruss said.