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Economic leader to talk commuter rail in Lilburn

LILBURN - E.H. Culpepper, one of the region's key economic development officials, will be here Monday to tout the benefits commuter rail can bring this city.

Culpepper, who has spent 20 years trying to convince area business and political leaders about the potential of the Atlanta-to-Athens commuter railroad, will outline the project in a 5:30 p.m. meeting with the Lilburn City Council. The meeting takes place in City Hall.

Culpepper, along with former Georgia Department of Transportation commissioner Wayne Shackelford, is one of several local business leaders envisioning a railway that links the Centers for Disease Control and Emory University in Atlanta to the thousands of Gwinnett employees who live on the I- 85 and Ga. 316 corridor.

State transportation officials say it's possible trains could be running along the railway by 2010. Much of key infrastructure for an Atlanta to Athens line already exists.

CSX, the Richmond, Va.-based transportation company that owns the railway, is talking to local officials about its options.

One challenge for Culpepper and other supporters is changing metro Atlanta's attitudes about alternative transportation. Commuters were once able to catch trains from Athens to Atlanta, but that practice faded away as the automobile took over.

"What we're really talking about is a return to the past," Culpepper said.

One possible advantage for cities along the old railroad: reinvigorating commerce. Studies have projected the commuter railway could carry 8,000 passengers a day, create high-paying job centers and spark Atlantic Station-like developments along the 72-mile route.