By John Schaffner

john schaffner BeltLine project team member Ravi Amin points to one of the alternative transit routes through south Buckhead during a session with residents and members of MARTA and BeltLine staff who attended the Dec. 6 meeting at Piedmont Hospital.

The BeltLine’s transit route through south Buckhead still is very much up in the air and appears to depend largely upon ongoing negotiations with two freight rail giants

But the mode of transit used on the BeltLine may involve modern streetcar technology rather than light rail because of a need to operate on streets.

At the same time, one route now under consideration for the transit system may not provide a direct link to Piedmont Hospital.

MARTA and BeltLine officials met with 50 to 60 residents at Piedmont Hospital on a cold and rainy evening Dec. 6 for another in a series of Northside Study Group meetings over progress in the planning of the BeltLine transit route and trail route through south Buckhead.

After months of meetings, the messages from Nathan Conable, director of Transit & Transportation for Atlanta BeltLine, Inc., was the trail alignments are fixed through south Buckhead, but the transit alignment — and technology — remains up for discussion and depends on which route is followed and which rail company cooperates.

Two rail companies — CSX and Norfolk Southern — carry large amounts of freight through south Buckhead on their rail corridors and both see the need to expand that freight traffic in the future.

“There is a need for additional freight capacity” by both major rail companies and the BeltLine would be sharing the rail right-of-way with one of those companies for its transit component, Conable said.

“A regional solution” is needed,” Conable said, “in terms of working with CSX and Norfolk Southern, regarding future high-speed rail and other options.”

One favored BeltLine transit route would follow the CSX rail line through south Buckhead, crossing through the Collier Park and Ardmore Park neighborhoods to a station on Peachtree Road just north of Piedmont Hospital and the Shepherd Spinal Center. That route could accommodate either light rail or modern streetcars for the most part.

An alternative route would run from Marietta Boulevard through Atlantic Station, up to Deering Drive and east along the Norfolk Southern rail line past the Brookwood Amtrak station. It would cross Peachtree Road and head north to the Lindbergh MARTA station, where it would connect with the northeast BeltLine transit corridor coming north from Piedmont Park.

Conable explained that the majority of that route would take the transit along city streets and thus the technology would almost certainly be streetcars, which would move more slowly and make more frequent stops than light rail.

“The rail option has been taken out on the Norfolk Southern alternative,” Conable stated.

The alternative following the Norfolk Southern rail line would not provide any close direct connection to Piedmont Hospital or the anticipated future commercial growth area along Peachtree Road near the hospital.

Conable pointed out that the northwest area of Atlanta does not easily connect to the rest of the BeltLine through south Buckhead. That is the reason for the need for alternative routes and strategies.

Conable said the CSX and Norfolk Southern alternatives both would require the purchase of additional right-of-way. “We don’t know who we would be buying the properties from at this point,” he added.

Following the Norfolk Southern rail route would provide the most direct route from northwest Atlanta to the Lindbergh Station in south Buckhead, Conable said.