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The Georgia Department of Transportation will take a closer look at running a high-speed train between Atlanta and Savannah, thanks to money in the new federal spending bill passed Thursday. 

Georgia leaders have called for a rail connection between two of the state’s biggest economic centers in fits and starts for decades. But the idea’s never left the station.

Now, a new federal spending bill includes $8 million to study it.

“What I love about what’s happening with this particular bill, is it gives us an opportunity to look at the infrastructure and the cost, the foundation of what it will take to actually move this forward,” said State Rep. Carl Gilliard (D-Garden City).

Train supporters say it would provide a huge boost for tourism. Most visitors to Savannah come from Atlanta.

“The paths to our shared futures have always been paved with connectivity. Atlanta, the state of Georgia and its cities can only benefit from forward-thinking policies like high-speed rail expansion,” said Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens in a statement.

Savannah Mayor Van Johnson called it “game-changing.”

“This effort will drive economic activity and opportunity for hardworking Savannahians,” he said.

Both mayors thanked U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff for securing the funding. 

High-speed rail could also cut down on the emissions that cause climate change by reducing the number of cars driving along I-75 and I-16. The transportation sector is the biggest source of those emissions.

A train used to run between Atlanta and Savannah. Known as the Nancy Hanks, it stopped operating in 1971.

Sign advertising Central of Georgia Railway’s feature train, The Nancy Hanks II, at the Terminal Station in Atlanta, GA on April 12, 1963. Credit: Wikimedia Commons