Georgia Plans to Use Tax Dollars to Upgrade State-Owned Rail Lines

A trio of Heart of Georgia locomotives on May 19, 2012. (Photo by Todd DeFeo/The DeFeo Groupe)

(The Center Square) – Georgia plans to spend about $10 million to upgrade state-owned rail lines to Class II standards, which officials said would better integrate the lines with the national rail network and allow faster speeds.

The funding is included in the proposed fiscal year 2023 budget Georgia lawmakers are considering. However, the funding isn’t enough for the state to completely overhaul the lines, Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) spokesperson Natalie Dale told The Center Square.

“Proposed Rail projects as outlined in the FY23 budget address the most urgent rail bridge maintenance/repair/upgrade needs as determined by GDOT’s Rail Office Bridge Inspection Program, but is not comprehensive of all bridge needs across GDOT’s rail system,” Dale said. “Other planned rail construction projects include tie, ballast [and] track upgrades at various locations across the state as well as at-grade crossing improvements.

“The funds will be used to leverage federal discretionary [Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements Program] funding, allowing approximately 50-55 miles of track to be upgraded,” Dale added. “The specific cost and distance covered will vary according to the current status and conditions within each segment.”

State officials said upgrading the lines will provide more unified operations with other private short lines and a pair of Class I railroads that operate in the state: CSX and Norfolk Southern. It also would reduce speed restrictions on lines serving underserved industries, shippers and rural Georgia communities.

Dale said the state owns several rail lines: the Chattooga & Chickamauga Railroad in northwest Georgia, the Georgia Northeastern Railroad in northern Georgia, the Georgia Southwestern Railroad in southwest Georgia, the Heart of Georgia Railroad in middle Georgia, the Ogeechee Railway near Savannah and the Georgia & Florida Railway in south Georgia and northern Florida. The state may lease the lines to private companies to operate.

Georgia also owns the Western & Atlantic Railroad, a line it built before the Civil War between Atlanta and Chattanooga, Tennessee. The state leases the line to CSX.

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