Campaign for train gains steam in Lilburn

LILBURN - A passenger railway shuttling commuters from Athens to Atlanta could run through the heart of this city, becoming an economic engine for downtown commerce.

This is the vision commuter rail advocates brought to the Lilburn City Council on Monday. They were led by E.H. Culpepper, chairman of the Georgia Bioscience Joint Development Authority and longtime supporter of the 72-mile passenger rail line.

Culpepper, joined by transportation consultants, is trying to kick-start a grass-roots campaign to show the public the railway's benefits.

Although a passenger train linking Athens and Atlanta has enjoyed the support of some state economic leaders, the idea is less well known among the public, advocates say.

"They generally don't have an opinion on it yet," said Emory Morsberger, a local developer who is revitalizing properties from Atlanta to Lawrenceville.

The entire commuter railway would cost about $400 million, with about 20 percent of the funding coming from state and local governments. One key issue is how much money cities such as Lilburn - which would form a key hub on the railroad - can contribute toward the project.

Lilburn owns 22 acres adjacent to the city park that could house a train station, but the City Council would need to decide how long it can sit on the property. State transportation officials and consultants say the commuter railway could be up and running by 2010.

Mayor Jack Bolton said the city loves the idea, "but we have a lot of questions to consider."-