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Tennessee Lookout – State report recommends forming public transit office, among others to restart passenger rail

Tennessee Lookout – July 10, 2023 | By Adam Friedman

Tennessee’s Department of Transportation should determine the cost of building passenger rails lines connecting the state’s largest cities and create an office dedicated to public transit, the state agency of intergovernmental relations recommended

Last year, a bipartisan group of state lawmakers passed legislation for the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (TACIR) to determine where the state should start when trying to create passenger rail lines connecting Chattanooga, Knoxville, Memphis, Nashville and cities in other nearby states. 

The report —which took nearly a year to complete — acknowledges Tennessee taxpayers would have to subsidize any rail expansion, but the state’s transportation department can create a detailed plan on its potential and spend more resources on the study of public transit. 

The report recommended the state start submitting requests to the Federal Railroad Administration for funding to study the following routes:

  • Nashville to Chattanooga to Atlanta, Ga.
  • Memphis to Nashville
  • Chattanooga to Knoxville to Bristol
  • Memphis to Chicago via Carbondale, Ill. 
  • Nashville to Louisville, Ky.

Local officials in Nashville and Memphis submitted their own applications for funding in May to study the Nashville to Atlanta and Nashville to Memphis routes. 

TACIR’s report recommends the transportation department make connecting Nashville to Chattanooga to Atlanta its top priority because it would finally connect the middle and eastern parts of Tennessee to the Amtrak network. 

Amtrak’s only lines in Tennessee run on the state’s western end, connecting Memphis to New Orleans and Chicago. 

Beth Emmons, a spokesperson for the transportation department, said they welcomed the report and would start engaging with groups like Amtrak, the Federal Railroad Administration and other states about its recommendations. 

“Over the next several months, we will be engaging these interested parties as we incorporate the findings into our updated future plans,” she said.

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