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U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

Southeast High-Speed Rail: Atlanta to Charlotte Passenger Rail Corridor

Overview

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), in cooperation with the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT), has completed a Tier I Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and signed a Record of Decision (ROD) for the proposed Atlanta to Charlotte Passenger Rail Corridor Investment Plan. The purpose of the Plan is to help determine future transportation investments of vital importance to all people who live, work, and travel in the Atlanta to Charlotte corridor. The Atlanta to Charlotte corridor is an integral extension of the Southeast High-Speed Rail (SEHSR) corridor, as designated by the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT).  The SEHSR corridor will ultimately provide important connectivity between Atlanta and Washington, DC, and on to the Northeast Corridor to Boston, MA. As a Tier I document, exact track locations have not been determined; instead, FRA analyzed corridor alignments in this document. Funding to build this part of the SEHSR has not yet been fully identified.

Background

The SEHSR corridor is one of the five original high-speed rail corridors designated by USDOT. The corridor initially connected Charlotte, NC; Richmond, VA; and Washington, DC. The corridor has been extended over time, and more information can be found on the High-Speed Rail Timeline page. The section from Charlotte to Washington, DC, was studied in a Tier I EIS, for which FRA and the Federal Highway Administration issued a ROD in 2002. On March 24, 2017, FRA issued a Tier II ROD for the Raleigh, NC, to Richmond, VA, segment. FRA and the North Carolina Department of Transportation also completed numerous individual Tier II studies for the Charlotte to Raleigh section. On May 31, 2019, FRA and the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation completed a Tier II EIS for the Richmond to Washington, DC, section, and on September 5, 2019, FRA issued the ROD.

Draft Environmental Impact Statement

On May 16, 2013, FRA published in the Federal Register a Notice of Intent (NOI) for the EIS. FRA and GDOT initially considered six potential corridor-route alternatives including three shared-use alternatives for evaluation in the Tier I EIS:

  • The Norfolk Southern (NS) railroad corridor (also referred to as the Southern Crescent Corridor route);
  • The CSX Transportation (CSX) right-of-way between Atlanta, GA, and Chester, SC, via Athens, GA; and the NS right-of-way between Chester, SC, and Charlotte, NC, via Rock Hill, SC;
  • The CSX right-of-way between Atlanta and Augusta, GA, and NS right-of-way between Augusta and Charlotte via Columbia, SC;
  • Two interstate alternatives: the I-85 corridor via Greenville and Spartanburg, SC, and the I-20 and I-77 corridor via Columbia, SC; and
  • A greenfield corridor that offers the opportunity to define a fully grade-separated route alignment with optimal geometric characteristics for high-speed passenger rail service.

Upon completion of the public scoping process, GDOT prepared an Alternatives Development Report (ADR), which recommended the advancement of three corridor-route alternatives for further analysis in the Tier I EIS:

  • Alternative 1 – Southern Crescent; following the NS railroad corridor, which hosts the existing Amtrak Crescent long-distance service between Charlotte, NC, and Atlanta, GA;
  • Alternative 2 – I-85; following the I-85 right-of-way between Gastonia, NC, and Suwanee, GA, and transitioning to existing railroad rights-of-way in the approaches to the Atlanta, GA, and Charlotte, NC, termini; and
  • Alternative 3 – Greenfield; development of a new “Greenfield” high-speed rail corridor between Atlanta, GA, and Charlotte, NC, and transitioning to existing railroad right-of-way in the approaches to the Atlanta, GA, and Charlotte, NC, termini.

The exact alignments and routes for the termini of the alternatives have not yet been finalized and will be further defined in a future Tier II EIS; however, each of the alternatives will include service to downtown and airport stations in both Atlanta, GA, and Charlotte, NC. In particular, the project will consider connectivity between a downtown Atlanta passenger station and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta, and between the proposed Charlotte Gateway Station and Charlotte-Douglas International Airport.

As part of the Tier I study, FRA and GDOT analyzed corridor alternatives; service technologies, including diesel and electrified operations; service frequency and hours of service; and suggested cities for potential station locations. While potential options were identified, the selection of service technologies, maximum speed, and service frequency and hours are deferred to a future Tier II study, as is any analysis of station locations. The study identifies two potential routes to enter Atlanta, referred to as the Atlanta Approach. Due to the complex nature of the infrastructure and rail operations in Atlanta, the selection of a route is deferred to Tier II for more detailed study. The future Tier II study could explore other alternatives beyond those described in the Tier I study. 

On September 20, 2019, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) included in their Notice of Availability published in the Federal Register the Tier I Draft EIS for the Atlanta to Charlotte Project, in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA). During this period, GDOT and FRA held public meetings in Atlanta, GA; Greensville, SC; and Charlotte, NC. FRA and GDOT accepted public comments on the Draft EIS for 45 days.

Final Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision

During the 45-day public review and comment period, GDOT received a total of 2,154 public and agency comments. Comments were submitted electronically via an online comment form, through written comment cards at the public meetings, and verbally to the court reporter at public meetings.

On June 30, 2021, FRA issued a combined Final EIS and ROD (FEIS/ROD) in accordance with 49 USC § 304a(b). The FEIS and ROD were combined because the FEIS did not make substantial changes to the proposed actions that are relevant to environmental safety concerns, and there were no significant new circumstances or information relevant to environmental concerns. 

In the FEIS/ROD, FRA identified the Greenfield Corridor Alternative as the Preferred Corridor Alternative. The Greenfield Corridor Alternative is a 274-mile route that connects Charlotte, NC (Charlotte Gateway Station), and Atlanta, GA (Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport – H-JAIA), and generally follows a new dedicated alignment between the Charlotte Douglas International Airport and northeast Atlanta. A future Tier II study will define the specific alignment for the Greenfield Corridor Alternative, including the final approaches into Atlanta and Charlotte. GDOT and FRA assume the Greenfield Corridor Alternative could use either diesel or electric propulsion technology (for more information on the potential impacts of the Greenfield Corridor Alternative and mitigation for those impacts, see Section 3.3.2 of the FEIS/ROD).

For more information on the Atlanta to Charlotte project, please visit GDOT's project website.

View the Final Environmental Impact Statement/Record of Decision:

Permitting Dashboard

The U.S. Permitting Dashboard is an online tool for Federal agencies, project sponsors, and interested members of the public to track the Federal government’s environmental review and authorization processes for large or complex infrastructure projects. The Dashboard is part of a government-wide effort to improve coordination, transparency, and accountability. A link to this project’s page on the Dashboard is below.

Last updated: Friday, July 9, 2021