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U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigeig speaking at Nashville International Airport on March 3, 2023. // John Partipilo

U.S. Secretary of Transportation: Amtrak rail in Tennessee could ‘unlock’ economic activity

Amtrak doesn’t run any rail line east to west through Tennessee, while state Democrats have long advocated for an expansion.


By Adam Friedman, Tennessee Lookout

While in Nashville last week, the federal transportation secretary signaled his support for expanding Amtrak rail in Tennessee.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg said connecting Nashville by rail lines to places like Memphis, Louisville and Atlanta has enormous potential.

“Those connections could unlock a lot of economic activity,” Buttigieg said while attending a grant ceremony at Nashville’s airport.

Most of the Nashville Democratic state delegation was in attendance for the ceremony. Neither of the three Republican U.S. Congressmen — U.S. Reps. Andy Ogles, John Rose, or Mark Green — representing parts of Nashville attended.

Amtrak is a for-profit national passenger rail company that receives substantial funding from federal and state grants.

Amtrak runs only one rail line in Tennessee through Memphis, leaving the rest of the state off its passenger rail map.

Above, left, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigeig speaks to Doug Kremlin, president and CEO of the Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority on March 3, 2023. Nashville Mayor John Cooper is at right; at left is Andrew Byrd, member of the Metro Nashville Airport Authority. Above, right, Metro Councilmember Robert Swope greets transportation Secretary Pete Buttigeig. Buttigeig was in Nashville to to discuss a $7 million investment from the Biden Administration. // Photos by John Partipilo

Joining Buttigeig at the Nashville International Airport were, front row from left: Sen. Jeff Yarbro, Sen. Heidi Campbell, Rep. John Ray Clemmons, and Rep. Justin Jones, all Nashville Democrats. Back row from left: Metro Councilmembers Robert Swope and Sulfate Suara and Rep. Caleb Hemmer, D-Nashville. // John Partipilo

Nashville Democrats have long advocated for the state and federal transportation departments to work together to fund an Amtrak line running from Chattanooga to Memphis, crossing through Nashville, Knoxville and other cities in the state.

The Tennessee Department of Transportation sent a letter to Federal Rail Administration stating they intend to seek a rail grant. But, before that can happen, the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations has to finish a lawmaker-mandated study on passenger rail.

Amtrak released a 2035 plan showing it wants to build a line from Nashville to Atlanta with a stop in Chattanooga.

Adam Friedman is a reporter with the Tennessee Lookout. He has a particular love for data and using numbers to explain all kinds of topics.

Now more than ever, tough and fair journalism is important. The Tennessee Lookout is your watchdog, telling the stories of politics and policy that affect the people of the Volunteer State.

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