Study on Creating Passenger Train System Across Tennessee Gains Senate Support

The Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum. (Photo by Todd DeFeo/The DeFeo Groupe)

(The Center Square) – A bill calling for a study on train transportation across Tennessee passed unanimously Thursday in the state Senate.

The study, to be completed by the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (TACIR), would be due to the Legislature’s transportation committees by July 1, 2023.

Senate Bill 2343 came about after Amtrak announced its planned 2023 map, which included a route from Atlanta to Nashville through Chattanooga and a route from Chicago to New Orleans through Memphis but no connection through Tennessee or between Nashville and Louisville.

Sponsoring Sen. Ken Yager, R-Kingston, said the bill was brought to him by Rep. Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis. The two work together on the TACIR board. The House companion bill is on the final calendar of the House Calendar and Rules Committee.

“Part of the request is to look at what at least three other states have done, particularly with Amtrak,” Yager said.

Yager said the study would focus on “major cities in each of the three grand divisions.”

Those grand divisions are east, middle and west Tennessee with Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville representing those areas.

The study would include the cost of a new transportation system, but it will be conducted by TACIR using existing resources.

“Honestly, I wouldn’t care if they came up with a system that would beam me from Memphis to Kingsport,” Parkinson previously said in a House Transportation Committee, explaining the bill would require TACIR to “study how we can move people across the state of Tennessee, whether it is the rail or any other alternative means of moving people.”

The bill has received support in both chambers but Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, R-Lancaster, said during committee it is important to note the upfront costs that can be paid through federal transportation grants along with the future state costs of maintaining a passenger rail service.

“I can think of better ways to spend an hour of my time than driving,” Weaver said, noting in Tennessee it is complicated because the state has a one-rail train system with passenger and freight trains.

“I don’t think we should have ever allowed our train system to fall into disrepair,” Rep. Joe Towns Jr., D-Memphis, said during committee. “… We have the expressway system and we have planes, but we just forgot about the trains.”

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