Tussle with Amtrak and GDOT could kill Beltline vision (1)

Amtrak, GDOT and Beltline officials wrestle over vital tracks in Northeast Atlanta.

When it comes to the future of public transit in Atlanta, there’s good news and there’s bad news.

The good news: After decades of bowing at the throne of roadbuilders, the Georgia Department of Transportation says it’s finally taking off the kneepads and getting serious about train service that would connect Atlanta to other cities in the Southeast.

The bad news: Thanks to an unexpected tiff between GDOT and city of Atlanta officials, the Beltline — the transformative 22-mile loop of parks, trails and transit that would one day circle the city — might be in jeopardy. That’s because the train service that GDOT is suddenly embracing would have to run on or near the proposed Beltline tracks. What’s more, Piedmont Park, the city’s most iconic greenspace, might have to be severed by a heavy-rail route in order to accommodate GDOT’s vision.

Last week, CL first reported that GDOT — working in tandem with Amtrak — threw a wrench in Beltline officials’ plans for light-rail, trails and additional green space near Piedmont Park. Just as Norfolk Southern, the current owner of the tracks in question, was about to surrender them to the city, GDOT and Amtrak stepped in and halted the proceedings. Those two agencies now say the tracks in dispute are vital to their own vision for commuter rail.

“Simply put, because of GDOT’s boorish behavior and AMTRAK’s willingness to play along, the future of the city of Atlanta is at stake,” Mayor Shirley Franklin wrote in an urgent letter to U.S. Congressman John Lewis to seek his assistance.