By Maria-Jose Subiria
Approximately 30 members of the Rotary Club of Clayton County listened intently, as Gordon Kenna, executive director of Georgians for Passenger Rail, shared details of the Atlanta-Macon passenger rail line, during a club meeting at the Morrow Center, Wednesday.
Georgians for Passenger Rail, a non-profit organization, will focus its efforts on rail corridor planning, which it anticipates it will begin in the fall, said Kenna.
"What we'd like to do is begin that process, and educate people along the corridor," he said.
Kenna said the planning will consist of visiting cities located within the 103-mile existing rail line, located between Atlanta and Macon, in order to inform the community of the benefits that the Atlanta-Macon passenger rail would bring, including economic growth and a decrease in traffic congestion. The education process should last about 12 to 18 months, he said.
Kenna said he is interested in speaking with public officials, community groups and civic organizations within the cities, and expects to build contacts. Through those contacts, a plan will be developed to continue to take steps toward the Atlanta-Macon rail line, anticipated to begin operating in 2018.
"We hope that each community along the way gets a sense of what they aspire to, or what they want," said Kenna.
According to Kenna, a study conducted by the Brookings Institution, a non-profit policy group based in Washington D.C., concluded that the Atlanta-Macon passenger rail line will be an economic stimulus for Atlanta and Macon, and to the stops along the line.
The under-utilized rail track that already exists along the 103-mile corridor, would be inexpensive to repair for the anticipated Atlanta-Macon passenger rail, he said.
The study found that five stops were considered a reasonable number, in between Atlanta and Macon, according to Kenna. "That doesn't mean that, during peak times, you couldn't add additional services," he added.
The five cities that were chosen in the study, as examples, include Forsyth, Griffin, Hampton, Morrow and Hapeville, said Kenna.
These cities were chosen as stops, along with Downtown Atlanta and Macon, because they have a high demand of walkable, urban real estate development, according to Kenna. These developments allow individuals to reach shops and stores, at an appropriate walking distance, from home, he added.
Kenna stressed that Georgians for Passenger Rail is not responsible for choosing the stops; instead, the transportation agency that will be chosen to run the rail line will choose the stop locations.
Out of those five stops, "Hapeville seems to be the highest candidate, because of its close proximity to the airport [Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport]," said Kenna.
Though the stops are essential, Kenna said that he urges interested cities to focus on development of the corridor, before anything else. "Corridor planning is something that is very important ... a plan is something that goes into schedule, and people actually act on it," he said.
Gid Rowell, president of the Rotary Club of Clayton County, said the rail line will benefit the City of Morrow, if a rail stop is placed in Morrow.
As director of alumni relations at Clayton State University, Rowell said, if the rail line becomes an actuality, people who live as far away as Macon will easily be able to study at Clayton State University. "It will be better for the whole community, and it is something that is needed," he said.
Yulonda Beauford, president and CEO of the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce, said any type of rail system will be beneficial to Clayton County, because it will have a ripple effect on economic development.
"It's going to bring people in our community, which will be positive for businesses here," said Beauford. A variety of transportation options are needed in the county, in order for it to stay competitive, she added.
"So, as a community we need to look at various transportation options, and leverage the funding opportunities that are available," she said.