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Coalition pushes for high-speed trains between Washington and Atlanta

ATLANTA -- According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, members of Congress, business executives and transportation workers from six states rallied in Atlanta last Wednesday to push the idea of a high-speed train from Washington to Atlanta and beyond.

But don't expect to hear the cry of "all aboard" anytime soon.

U.S. Rep. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) said he hopes to get federal money by 2004 to study a proposed high-speed rail line through the Southeast. That would be only the first of many steps the $5.3 billion project would have to take.

Isakson said it could take a decade before the high-speed trains run.

"But in terms of this route, there is no reason we shouldn't plan for the future," he said.

High-speed rail is a key to continued economic vitality for the region, he said.

Business leaders seem to agree. A coalition of 14 chambers of commerce from major cities along the route, from Richmond to Birmingham, sponsored the rally.

Milton Jones, president of Bank of America, Georgia, and a member of the coalition, said trains averaging 90 mph or more could be competitive with airlines for trips of up to 300 miles.

The coalition would like federal and state governments to pay for the track, and public-private coalitions to run the operations.

Dylan Glenn, from the office of the president's assistant for economic policy, said that idea was in line with President Bush's policies, but warned there are no self-supporting transit systems in the country.

The government has had to bail out Amtrak yearly. Most recently it gave Amtrak $270 million to keep trains running through the summer.

Amtrak's high-speed train connecting Washington, New York and Boston has been one of the line's most heavily used routes.

Tiny cracks in engine frames have sidelined most of the fleet of high-speed trains. Thousands of passengers had to find other transportation.

Amtrak's problems were on the minds of those at the conference. U.S. Rep. Jack Quinn (R-N.Y.), chairman of the House railroads subcommittee, attended the Atlanta meeting and encouraged the coalition to lobby Congress for approval.

He said, "I think for that Northeast corridor, that could not have happened at a worse time, but I don't think there is a direct negative effect for elsewhere in the country."

The cracks are an engineering problem that can be solved, he said.

Monday, August 26, 2002

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