Voters to decide growth plans for Music City Star

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NASHVILLE — The Music City has the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Grand Old Opry, great food and impressive 21st century architecture. Many people move to this cultural metropolis every week, which contributes to a regional population of almost 2 million. While not currently served by Amtrak (The Floridian last stopped there in 1979), it has one unique asset that similar-sized neighbors Columbus, Ohio; Milwaukee; and Indianapolis do not: a rail commuter service.

The Music City Star was started in September 2006, running between downtown Nashville and Lebanon, Tenn., a 30-mile one-way ride, at morning and evening rush hours. Two person crews guide the two- and three-car push-pull trains on runs between the two endpoints. The Nashville Riverfront Station on the eastern end is a newly built station opened for the start of the run in 2006, a little more than 1,000 commuters use the service daily, but there are big plans afoot.

And there will be, hopefully, augmentation of rail service for all of greater Nashville, both light- and heavy-rail.

The next critical date for Metro Nashvillians will be May 1, 2018, when voters are expected to make a decision on a more than $5-billion dollar mass transit referendum. Based on raising taxes, this 14-year-long proposal will implement many things to make the transportation more relevant for a growing Nashville, 60-percent of that would be for brand new light rail, with 26 miles that would have to be built, which would bring a line to Nashville International Airport. Operation is slated to begin in 2026. The entire project would be complete by 2032.

And for rail commuters, the Music City Star is expected to participate in the build-out. It would expand to 18 hours of operation from 12; 40-minute service intervals during rush hours, 60 minutes during off-peak hours on weekdays and weekends; and the purchase of four more passenger cars to provide for the enhanced service. This would be a $30-million part of the package, about 75 percent of what the original startup costs were for the Star.

And, with the help of federal funds, the Music City Star may reach Clarksville, Tenn. Under the Northwest Corridor Study, the 50-mile transit corridor between Nashville and Clarksville is being looked at to upgrade commuter service, including two possible rail corridors. One being considered is on a right-of-way that is partly Nashville & Western track, and partially abandoned Tennessee Central right-of-way, now a rail trail with most of the roadbed still in place. The other rail option would be on CSX Transportation trackage, which would involve different operational practices from the current line to Lebanon. This facet is not included in the referendum.

With luck, funding, and voting, the nation’s smallest commuter line, will not have to bear that title eternally. The spirit of the little engine that could is alive and well in The Music City.
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