Originally created 03/20/01

Augusta will lobby for tracks



A hometown coalition led by Mayor Bob Young will travel to Washington on April 20 to make the case for Amtrak passenger rail service in Augusta.

Mr. Young learned in January that Augusta has been omitted from Amtrak's future plans for expansion. Other Georgia cities, including Atlanta, Macon, Savannah and Columbus, are part of the plan, as are Charleston, S.C., and Columbia.

Amtrak's plan includes both standard and high-speed passenger services.

"We're the only comparable city that doesn't have access to Amtrak, and that's just not right," Mr. Young said.

Local officials will try to prove Augusta has a viable customer base, something that Amtrak needs because it is to be cut off from government subsidies by the end of 2002.

"Obviously, it's a question of ridership and revenue," said Ray Lang, Amtrak government affairs director. "That's the biggest consideration - also, whether or not existing infrastructure is in place."

Mr. Lang declined Monday to give information on the specifics that led to Augusta's omission from the expansion plans. He said that would be addressed during the meeting with Augusta officials.

Expected to attend the meetings are Mayor Pro Tem Willie Mays; Commissioner Steve Shepherd, the chairman of the county's rail subcommittee; Jim West, the president of the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce; Tim McFalls, the chairman of the Georgia Rail Passenger Authority; and retired Medical College of Georgia professor Tom Swift, an activist in local rail issues.

Mr. Young learned of Augusta's omission during the U.S. Conference of Mayors convention, when those in attendance were asked to lend support to expanded national rail service, including new bullet train commuter service.

"We should come away from the meeting with a good idea of what Amtrak expects from us, and they will have a clearer picture of what we can offer the national passenger rail system," Mr. Young said.

Reach Eric Williamson at (706) 828-3904.