For The Record

Ga. freight commission plans more reliance on rail, money yet to roll in

By: - January 30, 2020 10:01 pm

State leaders want to increase the share of cargo that rides on rails. That would save wear and tear on roads as fewer trucks would carry cargo. Pixabay

A joint state House-Senate study commission agreed Thursday that Georgia should spend money to try and speed freight trains more effectively around the state.

But with Gov. Brian Kemp mandating budget cuts, the money is likely to roll out slowly for projects that deliver things like more efficient railroad crossings and better access to industry.

In the meantime, a report of the Georgia Commission on Freight and Logistics suggests lawmakers hold a place in the state budget in anticipation of spending on railroad projects that can reduce the number of trucks on Georgia’s highways hauling cargo.

“The commission did a good job, identifying issues and problems … that’s sometimes the easy part,” said state Rep. Kevin Tanner, a Dawsonville Republican who chairs the state House Transportation Committee and co-chairs the freight commission.

“Now we got to find real solutions to bring back to this commission,” he said.

Tanner’s committee approved his House Bill 820 after reviewing the report, legislation that sets up the placeholder line in the budget for freight rail spending. The committee also extended the commission’s time to study through next December with House Resolution 935

Only about 16% of freight as measured by weight moves by rail in Georgia; the rest rides on trucks, according to the Georgia Department of Transportation.

State leaders want to increase the share of cargo on rails. That would save wear and tear on roads; and elected officials could boast to voters that they’ve worked to clear up traffic.

In an effort to try and unclog trucking bottlenecks on highways leading to and from the state’s coastal ports, Georgia paid for so-called inland ports in Gainesville, Chatsworth and Cordele where road and rail lines meet. Cargo containers can be stacked, paid for and stored for customs clearance at inland ports just like on the coast.

Future state spending might include things like building tunnels or bridges for cars, to replace at-grade railroad crossings where trains are required to slow down.

Georgia owns about 490 miles of railroad track, about 10 percent of the state’s total. Most of the rest of the rail capacity is in the hands of Norfolk Southern and CSX, two large private rail companies.

A railroad can increase capacity by adding short stretches of parallel tracks to a single line where trains can pass each other.

The study commission aims to determine this year if the state should spend money in conjunction with private companies and if state law allows such a partnership. Tanner’s bill specifies that any spending must comply with the state’s gratuity clause, the part of the Georgia Constitution that bans the state from giving gifts to private interests.

The commission report also says Georgia has a shortage of commercial truck drivers and places to park trucks, building the case for more rail investment.

The state offers free tuition for Georgians who want to study commercial truck driving at the state’s technical colleges.


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Maggie Lee
Maggie Lee

Maggie Lee is a freelance reporter who's been covering Georgia and metro Atlanta government and politics since 2008. Her written work and data journalism has appeared in online and print outlets including The (Macon) Telegraph, Creative Loafing and