UPDATE: The Scenic City has received a $400,000 grant awarded through the federal Department of Transportation to study the use of existing railways for a passenger rail system. If the study finds that the project is feasible, a new station would be built in downtown Chattanooga.
The City of Chattanooga must also contributing $300,000 to the study to meet the required $700,000.
The total project would likely cost between $35 and $40 million, according to Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce President Ron Harr.
"In a relative scheme of things, this is not expensive," Harr said. "As compared to other cities that are building billion dollar train networks we can do it for really pennies on the dollar and that's what's so exciting about this."
Harr said the project makes sense because Chattanooga already has much of the needed infrastructure.
The rail study will evaluate the potential of using an existing 21-mile freight rail for passenger service and would total 23 miles. It will also evaluate demand, determine route options and examine a fare structure. The service would enhance access to downtown Chattanooga and provide a way to travel to job centers.
"By studying the feasibility of a passenger rail project, we are taking an important first step," said Mayor Andy Berke in a released statement.
"Passenger rail service would make travel to the airport and Enterprise South more convenient as well as connect our most disadvantaged neighborhoods to jobs, classrooms, grocery stores and healthcare facilities. By putting our railroads back to use, we could create an incredible impact in our community and increase the quality of life of our citizens," Berke said.
With more than 6,000 workers at Volkswagen and Amazon, Harr said the trains would help the city become less car-dependent and reduce emissions.
"As we look at our future, rail has got to be a part of the future so lets get on with it now," he said.
The grant is one of 72 awarded in 46 states as well as Washington D.C. Chattanooga was the only city in the state to receive the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant to study the feasibility of a passenger railway system.
"I ... am confident a passenger rail option would allow us to utilize existing rail infrastructure and provide transportation options to residents throughout the city," said Rep. Chuck Fleischmann.