The trains might not be visible on the horizon, but Augusta is a step closer to them, local officials said Wednesday after a daylong visit with four Amtrak representatives.
"There's a growing interest in rail across the country, so I think we're getting in at the right time," Augusta Commissioner Steve Shepard said. "This is going to be a long process - it's not an overnight fix."
Jay McArthur, the general manager for Amtrak's Atlantic coast business group, said he and the other Amtrak representatives were impressed with the information they received during their tour of the area - both by air and by foot.
"I think that we hear everything we want - it's the right kind of market," Mr. McArthur said. "There are logistical problems of actually getting a train here. When you reroute a train, there's capital costs; there's lengthening the schedules.
"The next step is for some resolve from the city and the state that they want to aggressively study what the cost and what the potential ridership and revenue would be - that way you can really weigh what you're up against."
A more short-term possibility, both local leaders and Amtrak representatives said, was to consider buses.
"It does appear that one option that's on the table for us right now that we could do fairly quickly to get in the Amtrak schedule," Mayor Bob Young said, "is to have a direct bus connection - a dedicated bus between Augusta and the train terminal in Columbia, S.C."
The Amtrak representatives offered to study the bus connection and send the city information on how much local investment would be involved.
During the daylong tour, the train representatives viewed downtown areas where city leaders say a train terminal could be built.
One potential site is near the intersection of Sixth and Taylor streets where The Southern Building, a former train station, stands.
"We looked at several locations because one of the main things was that we had to look at where the railroad lines are," said Heyward Johnson, Augusta Public Transit director. "Where (rail lines) come together to go north-south or east-west is downtown."
From the air, the train representatives viewed the track structure between Augusta and Columbia. Mr. McArthur said the existing rail lines appeared to fit with what any proposed Amtrak passenger service would need.
Involving Augusta's legislative delegation will also become another piece in the city's endeavor to get an Amtrak train connection, Mr. Shepard cited the train representatives as saying Wednesday.
Mr. Young said the city will continue to develop the relationship with Amtrak that Wednesday's visit marked.
"We're on the radar screen now," he said. "We just want our blip to get bigger."
Reach Vicky Eckenrode at (706) 823-3227.
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