Mayor Bob Young has been getting a number of love letters at his office lately.
They've been coming from business owners, married couples and elected officials writing on letterheads, e-mails and postcards to say one thing - they want Amtrak.
On March 16, Mr. Young announced that Amtrak officials would visit Augusta. Although the Garden City was left out of the company's long-term network plan for the Southeast, the mayor said Augusta might still be able to convince Amtrak officials to change their minds.
Several other cities in the Southeast, including Macon; Savannah; Charlotte, N.C.; Columbus, Ga.; and Spartanburg, S.C., have Amtrak service or are included in the company's expansion plans.
And while passenger rail service would be the long-term goal, a bus-shuttling service to nearby cities with Amtrak connections, such as Atlanta or Columbia, would be a likely first step if the company decides to include Augusta.
So Mr. Young appealed to residents and businesses in the Augusta area to send him letters expressing their support for passenger rail service.
"The response has been positive, and it's coming from all kinds of people and all walks of life," Mr. Young said. "I've had a lot of people stop me and say they want to get Amtrak to Augusta."
The intent, he said, was to hand a stack of personal letters of support to Amtrak officials when they visit the city June 6 to look at Augusta's rail infrastructure and tour possible sites for a railroad terminal.
The mayor has received about 150 letters outlining reasons Augusta should get the passenger trains.
"My husband and I travel to Columbia or Denmark, S.C., two times a year in order for grandma and momma to take their vacation in Philadelphia, Pa.," Janet Jones wrote. "We are tired of driving two hours (roundtrip) in the middle of the night to use Amtrak."
Denmark, which is about 55 miles away, is the closest Amtrak station to Augusta.
Other letters focused on the need for more transportation choices.
"With overcrowded highways, high gasoline prices, and clogged airways it's time to improve our rail system throughout the country," wrote Kathy Fisher of Aiken.
While some letters the Amtrak officials will see include simple messages such as "Amtrak, Amtrak, Amtrak!!!," others contain detailed arguments about how the passenger rail company could help boost the area's economy, increase accessibility and even improve existing transportation options.
"What better way is there to drive down the cost of air travel," one letter asked, "and consequently increase usage than to introduce competition in the form of rail travel?"
Reach Vicky Eckenrode at (706) 823-3227.
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