Birmingham bullet train to Atlanta

The westbound Amtrak Crescent streaks through the Titusville neighborhood in Birmingham, Ala., Wednesday, July 3, 2013. (Mark Almond/malmond@al.com)
The westbound Amtrak Crescent streaks through the Titusville neighborhood in Birmingham, Ala., Wednesday, July 3, 2013. (Mark Almond/malmond@al.com)

I actually wrote this column last year, but decided not to publish it.

It just seemed too farfetched.

But now that the Senate has passed a trillion dollar infrastructure bill, this could be Birmingham’s and Alabama’s big opportunity.

It’s time for our Birmingham region to think big and bold.

Atlanta has beaten our butt at every turn.

Atlanta won the super airport. Atlanta won major league sports.

Atlanta won big businesses. Atlanta won the aquarium.

Atlanta also won the traffic, overcrowding, and long commutes.

But Birmingham won the biggest prize–a great place to have a family and raise children.

We are not going to be successful playing Atlanta’s game, but we can be successful playing Birmingham’s game.

Birmingham has an extraordinary quality of life and sense of community—and we could build our foundation on that.

Let’s take advantage of Atlanta’s proximity to our advantage.

According to the BBJ, Richard Finley, president of Finley Group, has advocated for High Speed Rail (HSR) for decades. He previously received commitments from Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Georgia to fund the project but was never able to procure funding in Alabama.  Finley says “The goal is to build elevated rail from Atlanta to Dallas that can travel a minimum of 120 miles per hour – preferably upwards of 160 miles per hour – in the next 10 years.”

He said HSR from Birmingham to Atlanta would allow passengers to travel between the metros in under an hour.

An hour commute from Birmingham to Atlanta is not much different than from what many Atlantans have now.

As we’ve discovered from the Coronavirus outbreak, living in overcrowded and congested cities is not necessarily a good thing—and we now know people can work from anywhere.

Dan Buettner, author of Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest says that “People who live in medium-sized cities are more likely to be happy than the anonymity of a big city or perhaps the too in-your-face, limited-possibility environment of a tiny town.”

Folks would be able to enjoy the many advantages of living in our Birmingham area—but be able to commute or visit Atlanta as needed.

Joe Fuller, a long time Birmingham proponent told me how I-22 from Birmingham to Memphis was originally planned to go from Memphis through Huntsville and then to Atlanta.  He said Birmingham took a stand and was able to get the Interstate routed from Memphis to Birmingham.

I-22 took 40 years and cost billions of dollars, but Birmingham made it a priority—and made it happen.

The Gulf Coast is making a big push for High Speed Rail.

Birmingham needs to get its act together.

A bullet train would be great, but High Speed Rail would get the job done.

Birmingham doesn’t have to be Atlanta to be successful.

Birmingham can take advantage of its proximity to Atlanta—and still remain Birmingham.

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David Sher is the founder and publisher of ComebackTown.  He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).

Invite David to speak for free to your group about how we can have a more prosperous metro Birmingham. dsher@amsher.com.

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55 thoughts on “Birmingham bullet train to Atlanta”

  1. Let’s make it happen. Mr. Finley had that on the table about 5 years ago but nothing. No funding. Let get Mr. Richard Finley notes and dust them off. Got my support, I know how to route it to Birmingham.
    Robert Smith

  2. Bless your heart, David, you are so positive. I admire that.

    I fear the only bullets flying around Birmingham and Atlanta are from the senseless, gang shootings and street crime.

  3. How many people would actually travel from Atlanta TO Bham?
    For what? Would it justify the cost?

    Yet, it would be another method for Bham citizens to leave Bham.
    Reference the % shrinkage of Bham’s population in the new census report

    1. I live in the City of Atlanta and I would try it because we don’t have any other options. We would prefer a bullet train to Savannah, but if B’ham opened up we would try it just to be able to get out of the city sometimes in a day trip.

      1. Great questions that should be given real answers. Such a rail would not be very effective unless Atlanta started to use Birmingham as a suburb, which it already is to some extent.
        But if you bypass Atlanta’s monster of an airport, and driving to it, and you could get to New Orleans or Charlotte quicker and get to the center of each by the way, and Birmingham was simply in the path, would you not think about doing that? Then the benefit to Birmingham is more and better connections than it now has. Moving out of Birmingham is a long standing challenge starting with freeways, and that led to one of the largest and most unpleasant sprawling places in the county. I can hardly even imaging my wanting to living in Atlanta! That is one reason I keep saying I would prefer Birmingham get better, not bigger, just to become worse! and too much like Atlanta. Where does all of this BHM envy of ATL come from ?

  4. This is a tremendous idea – right up there with Eisenhower’s Interstate project or the Wright brothers jaunt into the skies.
    This would be a great example for other U.S. cities to mimic.
    That we are decades behind the times doesn’t really matter.
    Let’s get this show on the road!

    1. With Birmingham as the centrally located hub, we could cover the entire southeast. Think about how nice it would be to hop on a bullet train to New Orleans or Houston or the Gulf Coast. It would be luxurious! For all the negative nellies out there – you gotta start somewhere and this has been a great idea and a lonnnnnnng time coming.

    2. Remember all things are possible! “Just Do It”. Birmingham is ready, a shuttle service to Atlanta Airport from Birmingham started a few years ago, just need the marketing to beef up. Birmingham to Atlanta with 1 stop at Anniston and next stop Douglasville, Georgia, Hub Atlanta.

  5. For someone who dogs Atlanta at every chance, why would you want a quicker way to get to a place you hate (or secretly envy)?

    1. I would also like to correct you on your assertion below.

      “But Birmingham won the biggest prize–a great place to have a family and raise children.

      Birmingham has an extraordinary quality of life and sense of community—and we could build our foundation on that.”

      When I moved to the Southeast 10 years ago, I chose Atlanta to start my two businesses. You are correct about traffic and commute…as you will find the same in every city experiencing continued growth. In fact, it is a sign of prosperity in and of itself.

      However, what Birmingham and Alabama in general never seem to address are the images of corruption, oppression and discrimination burned into the psyche of American’s idea of what Alabama is. There is potential for high speed trains between Atlanta and Birmingham or Huntsville. If it happens, it will be because Atlanta is central to this part of the country’s overall success. But I refute your assertion that Birmingham is “the best place to raise a family because of its superior community engagement”. This is true only if you are White and heterosexual. If you are Black and/or LGBTQ, Alabama is a place to be avoided. The fact that you ignore this elephant in the room in your blog posts is exactly why there is uneven economic development between the two states/two cities. Even in 2021, Birmingham is suffering from horrific ghosts from the past and those politicians of today you all keep electing. Roy Moore is a glaring example.

      1. Alabama, like my birth state of Arkansas, must confront the fact that hate and prejudice is impeding economic growth and opportunity for all.

        1. If done right, it could be the start of something great for Birmingham. Everyone loves a comeback story. It requires sincerity, a heartfelt apology and actions one can point to that show a commitment to change. It needs loud voices joined together to counter the crazy that lives in every state. It needs community that stands together and says “We are not living under this ideology anymore”.

          Personally, I would need to know the physical safety of me, my family and my employees is a priority of the city/state. Even here in Georgia, there are places I will not even stop for gas, much less spend my money. They are the same places suffering from population loss and economic decline.

          There is a price to be paid for all our actions. Nobody ever escapes consequences in the end. Not any one person, not any group of people. Some may still be happy people of color and LGBTQ avoid putting roots down in Alabama. Business owners need top tier talent to thrive and they will go where that talent feels safe and where they would want to live. Birmingham must redefine itself. No train from Atlanta or airport will do the work required.

      2. You can’t leave out Mo Brooks, Tommy Tooberville and probably several others. Mo Brooks is also partially responsible for the insurrection running his mouth and hyping up the crowd.

    2. Birmingham don’t hate Atlanta. We are adjacent Metropolitan Cities with massive history of development in the South. With High Speed Rail people that work in Atlanta could live in Birmingham and commute like they do in the well development transportation sectors in Europe. Birmingham and Atlanta would merge together for common cause. We can take some of the Air traffic as well off Atlanta being that Birmingham is direct route
      flying from Detroit, Chicago, and other states west of the Atlantic Ocean.

  6. David, HSR would certainly bring BHM into the ATL orbit–same as for people living in Alpharetta, Suwanee, or Duluth and commuting an hour to work in ATL. I see this as a positive–not a negative. After all, currently, too many from BHM and AL are packing up and moving to Alpharetta, Suwanee and Duluth.

    1. You are correct and Richard Finley was the driving force behind John. Let just say they were “ahead of there time”. I was working with the group as well and much work was discussed about the development of the High Speed Rail.

  7. Atlanta would accept a bullet train from Nashville, Charlotte, Orlando, or Charleston long before it would accept it from Birmingham. If Birmingham were bigger and people from ATL had a reason to come here then mayyybbeeee…

    Also, you said Birmingham made i22 a priority, yeah and it took 40 years! If your top priorities take 40 years to complete a simple road, I don’t see us handling a high speed rail very well.

    1. Jackson, I have family in Atlanta and I feel the quality of life is much better here. Yes, it took a long time to complete I-22–but it was worth the effort. It took 25 years to complete Railroad Park which was a game changer for Birmingham.

      1. But if your top priorities take 40 years and 25 years to complete, something’s amiss.

        I disagree about the quality of life. Atlanta is so much bigger that you can find many areas offering the same /better quality of life and access to better schools. Most people who say they don’t like Atlanta have only been to specific parts and not spent time actually living there in the suburbs and experienced what life is like.

        By “better” I mean more nationally recognized academically.

        Also, even if you don’t like the ATL suburbs as much as MB, VH, or Homewood, at least ATL suburbs are next to an internationally important city with loads of opportunity.

        I went to Samford and started work in Birmingham, it wasn’t until a few years in the corporate world that I realized what opportunities I missed by closing the door on Atlanta too early.

        Obviously this all depends too.. If you’re retired then you probably don’t care about being in a 21st century city, the newest restaurant trends, high end shopping, or a dynamic feel.

    2. I agree, but as an Atlanta we are starving for anything. I would accept and rife a bullet trainnth B’ham if we had the option. Also Atlanta prefer a bullet train to Savannah above everything.

  8. Just to be factually accurate, the Gulf Coast passenger rail restoration (New Orleans to Mobile and eventually to Jacksonville) is not high speed rail (over 125 mph), it is just regular speed rail. It would like max out at 79 mph.

    1. Good point but the travel time between stops would be too slow, thus you have high speed. Everything is faster since the Wright Brothers ventured out and that was progress and on time.

  9. I’ve lived in Birmingham & metro areas all of my 50+ years. Revitalization is needed which I am starting to see near UAB. However, funding is needed for the Birmingham school system, along with revitalization efforts & infrastructure funding for neighborhoods in the North and West areas. I agree, a proactive, positive image campaign would draw families to live in Birmingham & work elsewhere especially if a high speed rail system is built.

  10. It is not that Atlanta won the International Airport and Six Flags. They wanted to put them both in Birmingham. Birmingham turned them down. They had people making bad government decisions then and they still have people in office now that are resisting everything for the people. Also, I notice that every time they try to make a decision about something, someone always mention, “We don’t need!!” That is a big word in Birmingham. When a person says, “We don’t need, they are not speaking for everybody. They are speaking for themselves!”That is the worst politician or government a state can have. I travel on my job and I have been all over the country and Birmingham, AL is way behind. They are busy, “Not liking each other and being envious of each other!” They are so afraid someone is going to get something before they do. They will never progress like that!!

    1. Don’t forget Budweiser wanted to put Busch Gardens near Mobile, but the small minds there and George Wallace didn’t want a brewery in Alabama or influx of “others.” Also, after the Brookley USAF base closed in Mobile the city “intelligentsia” fought tooth and claw against any major business development there lest it introduce undesired elements into their little backward kingdom.

      I left Atlanta in the early ’70s working in critical medical care to Mobile . I felt like a brain surgeon from Boston sent to a jungle to operate with a pointed stick.

      How many opportunities has this state missed out on?

      RSA’s David Bronner and other forward-thinking officials pulled Mobile out of the 19th century and saved it.

      1. I grew up by the Busch Gardens and the brewery in Tampa. I wonder if they was the one B’ham was supposed to get, wow

      2. Karl you name the right individual RSA Master Mind – David Bonner. Man of many visions at State Capital. He helped numerous economic developments within our State successful. Let get his thoughts?

        1. Bonner clearly has been one of Alabama’s best entrepreneurs ever. and totally focused on benefiting the entire state including Rossbridge. What a beauty spot that Rossbridge is, unique for its setting and the quality of experience there.

  11. I am going to use a metaphor that will hopefully get through, since my direct post seems not to.

    When someone who is obese comes to see a healthcare provider complaining about their knees hurting, the doctor will obviously tell that patient that losing weight would help alleviate the pain.

    If that patient goes around complaining about their knee pain to anyone who will listen, comparing themselves to people their age who are living active, pain free lives but are not overweight, at some point people get tired of hearing about it. Watching someone completely ignore the facts and advice, while seeking a magic pill or different advice, is frustrating and a waste of time. The most simple and obvious answer is usually the right one.

    Your blog seems to do the same. What can Birmingham do to grow and compete? How does Alabama get in on some of the economimc prosperity? Over and over, one blog post….one middle finger to Atlanta…at a time.

    Nobody who cares about personal safety and growth of their business wants to put down roots in a place that not only stood firmly in support of hatred and discrimination but still pretends the past is the past and has nothing to do with today.

    If you all want a White, heterosexual Nirvana…own everything that means. And for the love of God, stop looking east in resentment and envy. You keep looking for answers when you already have them. You just don’t like them.

    Atlanta is on an entirely different level, competing with places like Los Angeles and Chicago.

  12. WE NEED NOW , NOT TOMORROW HIGH SPEED RAILS BIRMINGHAM ALABAMA I REPEAT HIGH SPEED RAILROADS. GO FOR IT NOW .THANKS

  13. Mr. Sher, there are undoubtedly good, welcoming people all over Alabama. You have a well read platform. Be a voice for actual change. Support from within Alabama and across the country will follow, including economic growth.

    1. Christopher, I have no resentment to Atlanta. When I graduated college, I had to make a decision to move to Atlanta or stay in Birmingham. My dad framed it this way: He said you can be a big fish in a little pond or a little fish in a big pond. I chose to stay in Birmingham and I have never regretted my decision. I feel like I can make a difference in my home town. I would be lost in Atlanta. When I was growing up, Atlanta and Birmingham were roughly the same size. The Birmingham Barons played the Atlanta Crackers in Southern League Baseball. I’ve always perceived Atlanta as the competition–most people today would find that laughable. But I love my life here. I very much appreciate your thoughtful comments. And BTW, Birmingham is much different politically from the rest of the State of Alabama.

      1. There are many lessons to be learned from Atlanta’s growth. There are no insurmountable reasons why Birmingham cannot create a name for itself outside of Alabama and its politics. I, for one, would support and champion the city if it took grand steps to write its own legacy in the face of its ugly history. People are drawn to efforts of redemption. Companies want to tie themselves to good. If you read the latest announcements about Microsoft, Google, Twitter and Apple building regional HQs in Atlanta, diversity was always on the list. Atlanta’s race riots and racial tensions run deep. Stone Mountain is still a beacon to revisionist Americans who truly believe slavery was not that bad. There are White supremacist camps in North Georgia today, also home to Marjorie Taylor Greene. But then there’s Atlanta. And Atlanta’s halo is bright not because we have a big airport or a lot of Fortune 500 companies. Atlanta is blossoming from decades of inclusivity, big dreams and hard work by people who refused to go along with loud mouthed racists. The people, many Black and Brown, along with many White people learned to work together and we had leaders within communities that showed everybody the way. THAT is why Atlanta is who she is today.

        You can be that voice for Birmingham.

        1. And I, too, think you can make a difference. I really do. I can see your readership is not small. You have a unique position. Step out of your comfort zone and make some noise. 🙂

        2. Christopher I do agree with a lot that you are saying but this is not the Civil War. One Nation under God. All the states are brothers and sisters to the United States of America and all should support one another to continue the strength of the USA. I love Atlanta and I love Birmingham. But I like living here in Birmingham. Atlanta is about to pop unless it get some release from adjacent big cities like Birmingham.

  14. I remember a survey ranking Birmingham as having the second worst commute in the United States. I thought for a minute that we need to be more like Atlanta to solve this problem. But hang on a minute. The one city that is worse than Birmingham on this list is Atlanta. There are some things about Atlanta that are worth imitating and some things that are not.

    I am a strong supporter of high speed rail not only this line between Birmingham and Atlanta but nationwide. The airlines have served us well for several decades but now the skies are crowded and flights are unreliable and hard to book and board. This was true even before 9/11/01. Many European countries and Japan have high speed rail. Why not us? Florida is beginning to develop modern rail. Brightline already has a line operating from Miami to Fort Lauderdale to West Palm Beach and this will connect to Orlando next year. I don’t know if these trains are fast enough to qualify as high speed rail but some of the routes are over 100 mph. See the Brightline website athttps://www.gobrightline.com/ for more details.

    With the route mentioned in this article, we could enjoy access to Atlanta without having to fool with living there.

  15. Mr. Sher,

    You are right — with big infrastructure spending bills and the Dems need to hang on to those Georgia Senate seats and win others — the time is ripe!

    Also, many (but not all) prefer Birmingham — its scale and ease of getting around and to the airport — to Atlanta as you point out.

  16. If Birmingham for once looks ahead, instead of back, stops waiting around and aims with enough determination to be at the front of the line. Make it a hub and that will have a real impact. What not Atlanta the hub? NO not when it is so quick to get to Birmingham and what would go beyond.

    The there should be more, not more highway lanes, but more pedestrian walkways, more bicycle lanes, more express bus-ways, more fast underground rails.

    Remember George Wallace and how the airplane fuel tax ruined any future for Birmingham’s airport.

    Seize opportunity, apply determined entrepreneurship, and get it done right now.

    I might have said this before, let’s stop ‘Coming Back’ and shift to ‘Forward Better Birmingham.’

    You have started a great thing with your blog.

  17. I have jut read all of the responses, and have this to say: first, that all who agree that this is a good idea and a good thing to get going right now are right. and second.
    And Christopher all that negativity helps nothing move forward Furthermore, you are far too much over generalizing and jumping to conclusion over misunderstood assumptions. That is a good way to build up opposition. You have entered some very important questions into the dicussions, and they should be answered. On the other hand I completely agree with your encouragement of Mr. Sher. and that he and the poeple on his blog could really have a chance to make a big impact. That is very helpful and positive.

    So one and all: Onward and Forward, NOW not later.

      1. What a fine dream go, have a swim, and come back home in one day for dinner too! Now that is the kind of thinking about opportunity that could get this going ASAP!

    1. Fantastic! How did you find this.

      Now connection that I can see, unless it relates to how it was sold. Look up the monorail at Wuppertal Germany. It will surprise you how old it is!

  18. A city that knew 20 years in advance what was going to happen to Hwy 280 East, and did nothing to mitigate it is incapable of undertaking major development projects.

    Hundreds of thousands of city dollars were spent traveling to Atlanta “as fact-finding tours” to see how it handled the widening of Roswell-Sandy Springs Road for example. Atlanta and GA wound up building a major parallel highway system (Hwy 400) to alleviate traffic north.

    Those in Birmingham did nothing but keep widening 280 until they couldn’t and building more housing developments deep into Shelby County which only made it worse.

    Railroad Park and Pititz and the Regions stadium is about as big as we can hope for…IF we can control the crime.

    1. What about the ‘World Games’ in Birmingham next summer if this nasty disease allows? We will have the spotlight of the whole world. What can be one to take advantage of it? Think, find, and do!

  19. I think it is a great idea and I support high-speed rail all across the country. So, many commenters keep harkening back to the past era and I think we should acknowledge all of our past history, especially the mistakes, and learn from it. David Sher is a voice promoting progressive-thinking and trying to change that image. Others on this forum also share similar thoughts. Many of us in the state support the progressive ideas such as high-speed rail and development of our central cities.

    Someone mentioned Busch Gardens, and I’ve also heard it was Disney World, wanting to locate in Mobile, well those leaders are long gone and we do have some leaders that are open to change. If you look at many of the projects that have occurred in Mobile, Birmingham and other cities, there were many naysayers and much opposition to them and eventually many projects were completed. Now many of the same doubters are enjoying the fruits of forward-thinking leaders such as David Bronner and Mike Dow.

    Once the momentum occurs for various projects, it signals to others to come invest, innovate and develop projects. That is what has happened in Birmingham, Mobile, and other Alabama cities.

    Yes, there is much work to do in the areas of social justice, crime and education but it takes a collective effort and forward-thinking to make it happen. Unfortunately, our state leadership is sorely lacking in that area but we do have local leaders trying to make a difference.

    High speed rail seems to be a pipe dream to some but I feel it takes projects like this to be a game-changer.

  20. Move this project on. Just do it and forget whether it is ‘progressive’ or not. Once again put it into a political category increases the likelyhood that it will become a super time wasting ‘fight’ that will stop it from happening. just DO IT! It will be found for people to have its ‘pros and cons.’ Elected officials count, but if they a be pressured from all sides the chances are better that it will happen. It also creates an enemy to say that current leadership is not good! I am sorry to say that is the way politics actually works, best with bipartisan debate in the decision making process, something that usually inproves the final result which is much better that denying.

    But we certainly agree on the value of this high speed rail idea, and it finally happened with bipartisan support. Keep thinking and pressing forward.

  21. David Sher,

    This blog might be one that really begins to moving things toward a better future for my beloved home town.

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