Supporters turn out in favor of Athens-to-Atlanta rail

ATLANTA - The sound of a train engine Wednesday became a rallying cry for more than a hundred students, commuters and supporters of a commuter train linking Atlanta to Athens.

At a rally at the state Capitol, speeches were punctuated with cries of "choo, choo," and citizens became lobbyists, reaching out to legislators for money and support.

The same day, Gwinnett's Sen. Don Balfour and Rep. Clay Cox filed resolutions backing the project, which leaders hope to have in place by 2011.

"There's a great need for a train, there's no doubt about it," Balfour, R-Snellville, said after speaking to some supporters. "I think there's high demand. This is one way to get people off the road."

Georgians for the Brain Train, which is led by Emory Morsberger, is seeking $10 million in the state budget to build train stations as well as support from federal officials to construct the line.

But legislators are facing a budget crunch and have even had to stop enrollment of a children's health insurance program because of the situation.

"On the surface, it sounds like a good idea," Rep. Len Walker, R-Loganville, said. "Right now we're at a budget impasse. We'll have to see."

Among supporters at the Capitol were students and administrators from the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, Mercer University, Emory University, Georgia Gwinnett College, Agnes Scott College, the Savannah College of Art and Design and Georgia State University. The proposed train route would connect all of those campuses, leading to the nickname "the Brain Train."

In addition to the academic and research benefits, signs extolled the benefits in economic development, air quality and decreasing traffic, but detractors say the train would be too costly and would attract few riders.

"We want different modes of transportation besides sitting in traffic on the interstates all day long," said A.J. Robinson, president of Central Atlanta Progress.

Geoffrey Boyce, a student at UGA who leads Bulldogs for the Brain Train, said a survey revealed 4,400 students who have been ticketed on U.S. Highway 78 or Ga. Highway 316 and more than 1,000 have been involved in accidents on the routes, both of which go through Gwinnett County.

"We need this train for the safety of our students," Boyce said, adding that 80 percent of students have said they would ride the train.