All aboard! Amtrak may return to Nashville

While the recent proposal by President Joe Biden for proposed rail service is exciting — particularly the Nashville to Atlanta route — don’t start packing just yet.

The Biden plan is still brand new and, as with any government proposal, plans are subject to change. And delays. And setbacks.

Biden has proposed $80 billion for passenger rail service as part of his American Jobs Plan, a $2 trillion project to rebuild the nation’s aging infrastructure.

Government-owned Amtrak responded by releasing a proposed map of new and expanded nationwide service, which included a Nashville-to-Atlanta leg.

A route connecting Nashville and Atlanta could take about six and a half hours, Amtrak estimates, to include other stops such as Nashville International Airport, Murfreesboro, Tullahoma and Chattanooga. After stopping in Atlanta, the route would continue through Macon, Ga., and end in Savannah, Ga., according to Amtrak’s map.

Amtrak’s proposal isn’t its first venture into Nashville. Beginning in 1971, passengers at downtown’s Union Station could board the Floridian, a 1,400-mile route from Chicago to Miami. One northbound and one southbound passenger train left Union Station each day.

But less than 10 years later, in a cost-saving move, President Jimmy Carter proposed cutting several cross-country lines, including the Floridian. The last passenger train left Nashville’s Union Station in 1979.

Amtrak’s idea of returning to Nashville with rail service to Atlanta isn’t new. Amtrak proposed the route in January 2020 before the House Transportation Committee.

“Amtrak has almost no service in Tennessee and I would like to change that,” Ray Lang, Amtrak’s then-senior director of government affairs at the time, told the committee in January 2020. Lang is now Amtrak’s vice president of state-supported business development.

A year later, Amtrak remains onboard for rail expansion.

“Reintroducing Amtrak back into Nashville would provide tremendous momentum for transportation and tourism for the region,” said Stanton Higgs, business operations director for TMA, which offers a range of commuter benefits such as flex scheduling, and operates VanStar. “Rail travel creates a unique travel experience that is both functionable and memorable.”

“President Biden’s infrastructure plan is what this nation has been waiting for,” Amtrak CEO Bill Flynn said in a statement. “Amtrak must rebuild and improve the Northeast Corridor, our National Network and expand our service to more of America.”

Nashville wouldn’t be the only new city on the Amtrak rail system. Other cities seeing new, expanded or revamped service include Milwaukee, Indianapolis, Louisville, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Houston, Dallas, and Scranton, Pa.

Not only would new routes connect the U.S. under the proposal, but by 2035, Amtrak is planning to address climate change and increase its passenger count from 32 million in 2019 to 52 million.

“Amtrak has a bold vision to bring energy-efficient, world-class intercity rail service to up to 160 new communities across the nation as we also invest in our fleet and stations across the U.S.,” Flynn said. “America needs a rail network that offers frequent, reliable, sustainable and equitable train service. Now is our time; let’s make rail the solution.”