Marcon area tasked to raise $250K for passenger rail study

To get passenger rail service from Macon to Atlanta, advocates say the Macon community will need to raise $500,000 for a study.

The Peyton Anderson Foundation pledged $250,000 on Wednesday and issued a challenge to the Macon community to come up with the remaining $250,000 in the next 90 days.

The money goes to Georgians for Passenger Rail, a statewide advocacy group that will use the money to determine the cost of creating the rail line and making the rail service self-sustaining.

Georgians for Passenger Rail envisions a statewide network that provides widespread access to rail service.

Mike Starr, president of Georgians for Passenger Rail, said the first leg of the network would stretch from Macon to Atlanta. While Atlanta would be the hub of the passenger rail line, he said, Macon would be its gateway and would provide the connection between the seaport in Savannah and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

Former Mercer President Kirby Godsey sits on the Peyton Anderson Foundation board and is chairman of the Rail Committee for NewTown Macon. He called passenger rail service “transformative.”

“It would change Macon overnight,” Godsey said. “We would become the second-most important city in Georgia.”

He stressed that neighboring states are making strides toward passenger rail service and said if Georgia is going to remain competitive, it must push forward aggressively on the rail issue.

Macon residents, he said, have a “responsibility, obligation and opportunity” to “step up and say, ‘Passenger rail will happen here.’ ”

Of all the statewide plans, the Macon-to-Atlanta line is the most “shovel-ready,” meaning it could get started the quickest, Starr said.

City Council President Miriam Paris said passenger rail would give Macon a “critical edge” over other cities.

She said she has no worries about the community raising the $250,000 needed to start the rail study.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if we raised $500,000 in 90 days,” she said.

Bibb County Commission Chairman Sam Hart said he’s excited that Macon could have passenger rail so quickly.

He added that the fundraising practically began at a recent Think Community event, an initiative Hart put together with business and community leaders to discuss the future of the area.

“It’s very doable,” Hart said. “We had a number of business leaders (at Think Community) that said they were ready to step up with some money.”

The Bibb County Commission is planning to talk about passenger rail in early April, Hart said, though he doesn’t know if the county will be able to contribute money now.

Macon Mayor Robert Reichert, who was attending another meeting during Wednesday’s news conference, said through his spokesman that he supports the effort.

“The mayor has always been vocal about passenger rail service and how it can benefit our community,” spokesman Andrew Blascovich said. “He’ll have plenty more to say about it over the next few years.”

Anyone who wants to contribute to the rail effort is asked to send a check made out to Georgians for Passenger Rail to the Community Foundation of Central Georgia, 277 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Suite 3030, Macon, GA 31201.

To contact writer Chris Horne, call 744-4494.