Outgoing Chamber of Commerce President Ron Harr on Monday outlined a $40 million plan for a Chattanooga light rail system that would serve not only downtown, but also the Airport and the Enterprise South Industrial Park.
In a speech to the Chattanooga Engineers Club, Mr. Harr said most cities looking at such an ambitious plan "would be facing costs of over a billion dollars."
But he said Chattanooga is blessed to have numerous rail lines still in place, including one that the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum earlier obtained usage rights.
Mr. Harr said it would cost just $4 million to put a line in place from the TVRM by Missionary Ridge to Montague Park, where he said it could connect by CARTA shuttle to downtown.
He said the line could go all the way to the Chattanooga Choo Choo, where a new Intermodal Transit Station is planned, if a way is found to get past the main freight line that goes near the National Cemetery and Warner Park.
Mr. Harr said estimates are that a tunnel could be built under the main line for $10 million. That would allow the light rail to go from the railroad museum to the Choo Choo.
He said a grant application to pay for setting up the light rail system has been submitted to federal authorities. He said an answer is expected in September.
Mr. Harr said the application was put together hurriedly, but he said it states a very compelling case, including stressing Chattanooga's rich railroad history.
He said the TVRM could reach the Airport and the Enterprise South Industrial Park by just adding a new track of about a mile and a half in each direction. That cost was put at $13 million for each line.
Mr. Harr said one option on train cars would be to spend about $100,000 to refurbish six diesel-powered passenger cars owned by the TVRM. Another would be to use electric-powered vehicles. He said the vehicle would need to go through the Missionary Ridge Tunnel where electric power would not be available overhead, but he said there are technologies available to keep it running for that short distance before a switch back to electric.
The speaker said the light rail line could serve the need of commuters and also be a tourism draw. He said visitors often ask, "Where's the train?"
He said the line could also help boost redevelopment in East Chattanooga and other communities along the route.
Mr. Harr said he first arrived in Chattanooga as a McCallie boarding student via the Pelican from Bristol.
He said in all the planning for the light rail system one axiom is "there will be no harm to the city's robust freight system." He said 70-80 freight trains a day pass through the city, though they are largely "invisible" to most residents.
He said the city is blessed to be served by both CSX and Norfolk Southern, saying that was a major reason that Chattanooga landed Volkswagen.