Northwest Corridor Conceptual Feasibility Study

Study Overview

This study evaluates transit options between Clarksville and Nashville. The effort will examine enhanced, cost effective transit improvements in the northwest corridor to connect travelers to destinations (work, school, shopping, entertainment, etc.) and address anticipated traffic growth and congestion along Interstate 24. 

The scope of the study included: 
• Explore potential alignments for the commuter rail 
• Determine the most feasible route 
• Determine improvements needed on that route 
• Study of the capital costs needed 
• Develop potential operating schedules 
• Develop a preliminary operations budget 
• Research the next steps necessary to develop the corridor

Major Findings

The report lists the following three potential routes as main contenders for commuter rail from Clarksville to Nashville. These were evaluated for the feasibility of constructing the line as well as operation of the line once established. Due to the rugged terrain of the Highland Rim between Clarksville and Nashville, specifically the northwest corner of Davidson County and the majority of Cheatham County, very few potential alignments exist. For the purpose of this study three alignments were studied, the I‐24 Corridor, CSX through Springfield, and the Nashville and Western Railroad. For each alignment, possible stations were located, commute length and time were estimated, capital costs were estimated at a broad level.

I­24 Corridor
The first corridor that was explored was the existing Interstate 24 route from mile marker 4 in Clarksville to downtown Nashville. This alignment would be 45 miles long and typically utilize either the median or the shoulder of Interstate 24 as dictated by the terrain. The alignment would start with a station near the new Gateway Medical Center and the RJ Corman railroad just south of Exit 4 on the interstate. Following the interstate, intermediate stations would include south Clarksville near exit 11, Pleasant View at Exit 24, Joelton at Exit 35. The terminus for the alignment would be the Clement Landport in downtown Nashville, TN.

• Public ROW from Clarksville to Briley Parkway.
• Curvature from Clarksville to Briley Parkway allows for 59 to 79 mph operating speeds.
• Overall trip time from Clarksville to Nashville of 55 to 60 minutes (this assumes that there are no regular delays at Kayne Avenue Yard).
• Desirable Station locations in South Clarksville, Pleasant View and Joelton.
• Ability to expand system to Downtown Clarksville using RJ Corman’s line.
• Limited to no interaction in between commuter trains and freight trains except for downtown Nashville.

• Extensive property acquisition will be required in Nashville, affecting both residences and businesses. 
• Running through CSX Transportation’s Kayne Avenue yard will increase operating expenses, commute time and coordination efforts.
• Capital Cost of approximately $300 million due to new bridge over the Cumberland River, interstate interchanges, vehicular barrier walls, and new alignment from Briley Parkway to Downtown.
• The grade heading out of Nashville up the Highland Rim exceeds 4% which is exceeds industry recommendations for maximum grade and would likely require new locomotives and vehicles.

The second corridor explored was along the RJ Corman Railroad from Downtown Clarksville to their interchange with CSX in Guthrie, Kentucky, down CSX’s line through Adams, Springfield, Greenbrier, Ridgetop, Goodlettsville and into downtown Nashville. This alignment would be 63 miles long. The Clarksville Terminus would be downtown with an additional station near the Gateway Medical Center.  Intermediate stations would likely be located in Springfield, Greenbrier and Goodlettsville. The terminus for the alignment would be the Clement Landport in downtown Nashville.

• Existing infrastructure and right‐of‐way.
• Desirable Station locations in Springfield and Goodlettsville.
• Downtown Clarksville Station.
• Few if any residences or business will need to be relocated.

• Overall trip time from Clarksville to Nashville of 65 to 75 minutes.
• Use of CSX’s main lines is very unlikely due to high volume of freight trains currently using the line.  It would likely be necessary to double track the whole line from Guthrie to Nashville including a new bridge over the Cumberland River.
• Capital Cost’s are unknown until a rough scope of work that CSX would require is established.
• Project crosses over a state line which would add to the complexity of the project due to the additional bureaucracy of another state to coordinate with and seek approval of.    It is possible that a new interchange track could be built that would “cut the corner” and eliminate Kentucky from the project. 

Nashville & Western Railroad
The last alignment that was looked at was along the Nashville & Western railroad. This line originally was a Tennessee Central Railroad line from Hopkinsville, Kentucky through Clarksville and Ashland City to Nashville. The northern portion of the line beyond Ashland City was abandoned, but the roadbed from Ashland City to Clarksville is largely still in place. This line would be 43 miles long with a travel time of 48 ‐ 55 minutes. The Clarksville Terminus would be near Madison Street and Golf Club Lane. At start‐up the only Intermediate station would be in Ashland City. An intermediate station might be located in Scottsboro if the Maytown development in the Bell’s Bend area of Nashville ever proceeds.    The terminus for the alignment would be in the Mid‐Town area of Nashville.  A station near Farmer’s Market or at Clement Landport is also a possibility.

• Existing road bed  
• Willing host railroad
• 29 of the 43 miles of right‐of‐way are publicly owned (Cheatham County Railroad Authority, Town of Ashland City, and City of Clarksville).
• Short trip time of approximately 50 minutes is shorter than current commute time even considering time spent on shuttles to / from station.
• The bridge over the Cumberland River has a separate funding source (savings of $35 to $40 million)
• Does not have to involve CSX at time of start‐up

• Likely less ridership at intermediate station(s) than other routes
• Nashville Terminus will not be tied into other commuter rail lines at start‐up even though that option would exist as future expansion.
• The Cumberland River Bicentennial Trail will be impacted by the line.


The report states that if it is determined that additional progress toward a commuter rail is desired, the next steps are:

1) Initial Notification – The Initial Notification Report should be submitted to the FTA to make them aware that this corridor is being considered. This would likely need to be done through the Clarksville Transit System since they are an active FTA grantee. The report should be submitted with a request for feedback from the FTA. The feedback request should focus on FTA’s requirements for defining a “baseline alternative” and on FTA’s requirements for successful travel forecasting.

2) Review the Feedback – Adjust the next steps as necessary to meet any requirements and/or desires the FTA has.

3) Additional Ridership Modeling – The preliminary ridership modeling done for the Initial Notification Report showed a need to further refine this process.   Depending upon FTA input, it may be desirable to employ alternative travel forecasting methods such as:
a. Intercity modeling similar to that used for Amtrak and high speed rail projects.
b. Refinement or modification of the Nashville MPO’s travel demand modeling
c. Refinement of the sketch modeling process to user a smaller sample group that has train speeds and station spacing similar to a Clarksville / Nashville commuter rail operation.

4) Alternatives Analysis – A full scale alternatives analysis will need to be conducted for the corridor. This study on similar corridors has typically cost $800,000 to $1,200,000. The higher end of this range of costs would be applicable if the FTA requires extraordinary travel forecasting methods. This is a possibility since a large portion of the project is located between MPO jurisdictions. The alternatives analysis will have to be financed with state and local funds and with applicable categories of federal planning funds available to MPOs and FTA transit funding grantees.

5) Locally Preferred Alternative – From the alternatives analysis, a locally preferred alternative will have to be selected. Due to the nature of this corridor, this will likely require both Nashville MPO and CUAMPO to agree on the same alternative.  The locally preferred alternative will need to be adopted into both the Nashville MPO’s and the CUAMPO’s constrained long range transportation plans.

6) FTA Project Development – The FTA has defined a new funding category for capital projects where the initial request for funding is under $75 million in Federal capital funding and the total project cost is less than $250 million. This new program is the “Small Starts” program. Up to 80% Federal capital funding may be requested, but where project sponsors can finance more than 20% of capital costs, FTA project ratings may be increased. There are very significant advantages in project justification and in project rating by qualifying for the “Small Starts” funding category. For “Small Starts” projects FTA combines all preliminary engineering and final design into one phase referred to as “Project Development”. FTA requirements for entry into “Project Development” include completion of the alternatives analysis, adoption of the preferred alternative into the MPOs’ long range transportation plans, development of a project management plan which will demonstrate the readiness of the project sponsor to manage a major project, and preparation and submission of project information required for an FTA project rating. Funding for “Project Development” is 80% Federal and 20% State/Local.

7) Construction – Start the construction process. Note that any project construction done prior to an FTA “Project Construction Grant Agreement” will likely not be counted toward the local match.

8) Revenue Operations – Begin revenue operations. 

The report also lists items that should be done concurrently to these steps:

1) Protect the ROW – Through the county and city planning and land use regulation agencies appropriate steps should be taken to protect the ROW from further development. The local governments involved should examine the current land use plans, zoning ,and development policies which apply in ½ mile buffer zones around station locations to determine if local land use controls are “transit‐supportive”, as defined by FTA. Corrective measures may be needed to increase the FTA project rating.

2) Cumberland River Bridge – One of the facets of the Nashville & Western alignment that makes it attractive is that the Cumberland River crossing has a separate funding source. Every effort should be made to start the process in securing the funding for the bridge replacement through the Truman‐Hobbs act. Even if it is just to start preliminary engineering and surveying, positive steps on this portion of the project is critical.

3) Freight Service – Research needs to be done on FTA’s willingness to allow freight rail service on the currently non‐active portions of the line as well as what would be the newly constructed portions. Of particular interest is from the current end of the line at the Ashland City Industrial Park to downtown Ashland City where there are customers that desire freight rail service.





  • Northwest Corridor Conceptual Feasibility Study

Completion Date

  • Ongoing, 2016


  • RTA
    Parsons Brinckerhoff

Study Partners

  • Nashville Area MPO
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