MARTA is embarking on a series of studies that could lay the groundwork for bringing a commuter rail line to Clayton County.
"Things are moving well," said MARTA CEO Keith Parker. "We are working with Norfolk Southern to do the studies that are necessary to see if it’s feasible, and then adding all the expertise we need to our staffing and consulting groups. So we expect within the next year or so to have a lot of answers about how we can make that happen."
Over the next 12 months, the transit agency will undertake four separate but concurrent studies. The first $300,000 study will explore an agreement with Norfolk-Southern Railway to use the existing right-of-way from their freight line to run the commuter train service.
The second $195,000 study to be conducted by the rail consulting firm R.L. Banks & Associates will provide technical assistance regarding securing funding, mapping out how the system would be operated and deciding upon a negotiating strategy with Norfolk Southern.
The third, a Hatch Mott McDonald (consulting/engineering firm) study, will cost $199,000 and will look at updating MARTA's commuter rail concept.
The fourth is a $3.5-to-$5-million environmental study of high capacity transit options for Clayton County (which could include bus rapid transit as an alternative to rail). That environmental analysis is required as part of the federal approval process.
MARTA is hoping to leverage half of the one-percent sales tax in Clayton County as a local match to secure federal funding for the project. Half of the sales tax proceeds in Clayton are already being banked for that purpose, meanwhile the other half-percent is going toward bus service there.
The process of bringing high-capacity transit to Clayton is likely to take seven to 10 years, said Rich Krisak, MARTA's assistant general manager of rail operations.
"Seven to ten years, many people feel is excessive, but the federal process takes time and is competitive," said Krisak.