The firm awarded the request-for-qualification (RFQ) would develop a comprehensive analysis of the project’s implementation, including economic benefits and planning feasibility.

As the lead applicant for a multi-city passenger rail initiative, Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly directed city staff to publish of a Request for Qualification (RFQ) to begin the scoping and analysis for the proposed Sunbelt-Atlantic Connector, which will link Memphis, Nashville, Chattanooga and Atlanta. The application will close on Tuesday, June 11, 2024. 

The RFQ seeks qualified firms to develop the scope of the project by creating a comprehensive analysis of the workforce, economic, and operational impact of the project, which Mayor Kelly began exploring when he first took office. 

“The potential benefits for Chattanooga from passenger rail are boundless. Tennessee is expected to see a nearly 30% increase in auto trips and commute times over the next 20 years, while Amtrak ridership is increasing at about the same rate — clear signs that people want more transportation options,” said Mayor Kelly. “This project will help us protect our interstates, catalyze regional economic development, and better connect our region with more environmentally-friendly modes of transportation.”

Unlike projects that rely on maglev technology, which cost tens of billions of dollars and would add many years to the project, the Sunbelt-Atlantic Connector is designed to leverage existing, traditional rails that already connect the four cities. Modeled on successful projects in North Carolina and Virginia, the initiative will examine infrastructure additions such as sidings and stations that will be needed to accommodate additional train traffic from passenger travel.

The City of Chattanooga in December 2023 won a $500,000 federal grant through the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Corridor ID Program to fund a comprehensive study to develop the scope, cost, engineering, and other requirements needed to develop the line. A preliminary economic analysis performed by the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (TACIR) projects more than 17,000 jobs and more than $1.8 million in annual time saving benefit could be developed as a result of the project. The analysis also projects the route could have more than $18.2 million in economic impact on the regional economy.

“Our state and city economies depend on the free movement of people to go to work, enjoy the great outdoors, and visit friends and family, and the restoration of this key mode of transportation will alleviate pressure on our overcrowded highways for decades to come,” said Dan Reuter, city planning administrator and director of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency. “This model has been successful across the southern United States, and I have no doubt that if others can do it, Tennessee and Georgia can too.”

Interested firms should submit applications at cha.city/bids.

Background on the Corridor ID Program:

The Corridor ID Program is a comprehensive intercity passenger rail planning and development program that will help guide intercity passenger rail development throughout the country and create a pipeline of intercity passenger rail projects ready for Implementation. Unlike previous Federal intercity passenger rail planning efforts, the Corridor ID Program is intended both to support a sustained long-term development effort, and to set forth a capital project pipeline ready for Federal (and other) funding. The Corridor ID Program is intended to become the primary means for directing Federal financial support and technical assistance toward the development of proposals for new or improved intercity passenger rail services throughout the United States.

In June of 2023, the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations identified intercity passenger rail connectivity between Memphis, Nashville, Chattanooga, and Atlanta as priority opportunities to help increase connectivity, facilitate tourism and other economic development initiatives in Tennessee, and to supplement existing public and private-sector efforts to address the state’s transportation needs. Intercity passenger rail connects passengers to destinations in different metropolitan areas, best suiting the needs of those traveling medium to long distances.