I can hear the trains from my bedroom window. Nashville has an incredibly long and rich history of railroading, but it has been decades since passenger rail service was offered. I can see the newly restored Union Station from my balcony, it has been restored to its former glory, but its former function remains lost. There is a high-end hotel, offices, and a couple of really cool restaurants, but no train station. This is probably the same station where Olmsted stepped off the train on one of his many trips through the south.

Union Station

All of the rails are currently owned by freight companies. (Mainly CSX) When you compare the CSX service map to the Amtrak service map the reason for the lack of passenger service is obvious.

I discovered this a few months ago whenever I thought it might be cool to take a train home to Meridian, MS to visit family. Meridian has always had passenger rail, and I have fond memories of seeing my Mom off and then going and picking her up again at the depot whenever she would visit my Aunt in New Orleans every summer.

I'm really interested in what can be done to remedy this situation. I have made a few contacts, sent a couple of emails, but so far I have only been able to find one reported case in recent history of a freight track being converted to a shared track. It was a $49 million, 120 mile upgrade on existing tracks between Chicago and St. Louis, it was a partnership between Union Pacific and Amtrak that was brokered by the Illinois DOT. This was a rail that saw light to moderate freight traffic. Most of the lines through Nashville see heavy traffic. So the outlook for seeing passenger rail service return to middle Tennessee anytime in the immediate future is not good. That's not going to stop me from writing letters to as many public officials and CSX executives as I can get addresses for though.

Oddly enough, there is talk of a mag-lev system from Atlanta to Nashville through Chattanooga. Bizarre, it does seem like getting the cart before the horse. I'd like to see an incremental approach. Why not improve track conditions and controls so that we can restore passenger rail service from Atlanta to Chicago through Nashville, and then south to Birmingham, AL and west to Memphis? Then once the whole region is connected continue to incrementally improve the trains and the rails until we can run trains at 110+ MPH, there are lots of fast trains out there that can run on conventional tracks at a fraction of the cost of mag-lev.

I'll keep thinking on this as I fall asleep to the sound of trains with no one onboard but an engineer.

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Tags: mag-lev, meridian, nashville, passenger rail, regional transit, shared rail, trains, transit


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