Athens Banner-Herald: Landmark Communications Survey Release

May 26, 2006

Group says public on board with idea of passenger train
Proposed brain train

By Blake Aued

Public support for a proposed passenger rail line from Atlanta to Athens is so overwhelming that Georgia officials soon will be forced into action, advocates for the line said Thursday.

Eighty-one percent of Barrow, Clarke and Oconee county residents support the line, according to a poll released Thursday by the Georgia Brain Train Group, an organization dedicated to promoting a rail connection between 10 colleges and universities from Emory University to the University of Georgia.

The poll results will be used to lobby statewide officials, state legislators and U.S. congressmen to support the line, Brain Train Chairman Emory Morsberger said Thursday at the Classic Center. “Assuming we build support this year, this project will be up and running within five years,” said Morsberger, an Atlanta developer.

The poll of 412 registered voters in Barrow, Clarke and Oconee counties showed that they find arguments in favor of the line, such as easing traffic, are far more persuasive than arguments against it, such as the $371 million price tag, especially when question-askers explained that most of the cost will be picked up by the federal government.

Forty-nine percent of those polled said traffic is “a big problem,” and 81 percent said they believe it will get worse over the next 10 years. A majority also viewed growth, job creation and education – all of which Brain Train advocates say a train will help improve – as problems.

A similar poll of Gwinnett County registered voters released May 15 said that 75 percent of residents there support the train, and 87 percent view traffic as a big problem.

“This is a very well-supported program,” said Mark Rountree, president of the political polling company Landmark Communications. “The basic arguments for it are successful. The basic arguments against it fail.”

Officials began talking about the Athens-Atlanta line 20 years ago, and it’s been included in the state Department of Transportation’s plans for a decade.

Rural legislators, however, have been reluctant to support major transportation projects, and especially passenger trains, in metro Atlanta, but poll data indicating the line’s broad support among both genders, all ages and all political inclinations, along with the line’s economic impact, will help change that, Morsberger said. “We’re trying to get (lawmakers) to realize that the metro Atlanta area … basically is the goose that lays Georgia’s golden egg,” he said.

Plans for the line call for 12 stops between downtown Atlanta and the multimodal transportation center under construction in downtown Athens. Transportation officials estimate more than 12,000 people will pay the $4.50 to $6.50 fare to ride the train each day.

Brain Train proponents argue that the train will promote education by making it easier for students, teachers and researchers to travel between schools, and also benefit workers by giving them an alternative to a lengthy driving commute.

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