Supporters turn out in droves at rail forum

LAWRENCEVILLE - Some of the nearly 200 people who came here for a town hall meeting about a commuter railroad soon found themselves in a rally for a "brain train."

Most of the 30-plus candidates of state and local political races paraded to a podium Wednesday night speaking in harmony about the passenger railway.

Ga. Republican Rep. John Heard suggested the candidates' forum became more of a "Kumbaya" for the brain train than a debate on the pros and cons of the proposed 72-mile line between Athens and downtown Atlanta with 10 stops in between.

In fact, the mood was so overwhelmingly in favor of commuter rail that the one lone dissenter in the mix, State Rep. Steve Davis, was booed.

"Go back to Henry County," one man yelled from the crowd after Davis finished his attack on the passenger train, which he called an unfunded mandate. He also suggested its political, government and business supporters were trying to "brainwash" the public.

Secretary of State Cathy Cox, making a run for the Democratic bid for governor, said the train would be one of several transportation options she wants to give Georgia commuters. She also suggested the commuter railway would lend a bit of sophistication to the metro area, putting it on par with other cities that have embraced the concept.

"If metro Atlanta wants to be in the big leagues, we have to think like we are in the big leagues."

If the big winner Wednesday night was the momentum behind the "brain train," perhaps the only losers were people who wanted more answers. While there was a panel of experts that gave detailed explanations about the roughly $380 million it would take to construct the railway, the CSX freight line it would travel and whether taxpayers would have to foot some of the bill, some people wanted to know more.

Bob and Louise Hauert of Lilburn said their house stands in the path of the proposed commuter railroad.

They came to the meeting hoping to find out the fate of their home.

"Well, the first part of this was kind of a waste of time," said Bob Hauert, who got some of his questions answered after the rally was over.