On Monday, Sept. 15, the U.S. Department of Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery program awarded Chattanooga, along with 72 other cities, a $400,000 grant to assess the feasibility of a light rail system that would utilize the city’s old rail lines. An additional $300,000 was given by the city to complete an estimated $35 million dollar study that will examine factors like demand, fare structure, and route tactics.
All finances contribute to a thorough assessment of vacated railroads which span 21 miles. If the rail lines, which stretch from downtown to Enterprise South, are considered viable, they may be reused. An additional 23 miles are also being considered in the heart of the city.
Mayor Andy Berke said that “by putting our railroads back to use, we could create an incredible impact in our community and increase the quality of life of our citizens.”
No city appreciates the railroad quite like Chattanooga. By 1870, there were 58 railroad industries in the city; by 1910, over 300. Bridging the gap between America's biggest communities, the developed rail systems earned Chattanooga the title, “Gateway to the South.” By the 1950’s, competition with airlines and automobiles led to the demise of train terminals, stripping Chattanooga of its title.
Not only is rail service more convenient, it is exceptionally beneficial for the economy. "The rail service would make travel to the airport and Enterprise South more convenient,” Berke stated, “and it will also connect our most disadvantaged neighborhoods to jobs, classrooms, grocery stores and health care facilities.” Additionally, the president of the Enterprise Center, Ken Hays, believes that the suggested route could produce healthier and more prolific neighborhoods in Highland Park, Bushtown, and Glass Street.
These claims are supported by U.S. Representative Chuck Fleischmann. "I am confident a passenger rail option would allow us to utilize existing rail infrastructure and provide transportation options to residents throughout the city," he announced. Improved air quality, more advantageous pedestrian alternatives, and a transit-friendly community are just a few benefits the city expects to reap from the proposal.
Chattanooga has a bright future in store. While there is much more work to do in order for the rails to come back, in the words of Mayor Berke, “We are taking an important first step." By the looks of it, the Gateway to South could reopen.