An eastward expansion of the beloved Silver Comet Trail is now underway in earnest, with former CSX Corp. rail tracks being removed on a 2.3-mile extension that will take the trail inside the I-285 perimeter for the first time.
“We’ll make this the best part of the Silver Comet yet,” said Ed McBrayer, executive director of the PATH Foundation, an organization that builds trails throughout metro Atlanta. “We hope to be under construction by the end of the year.”
A 2018 agreement between CSX and the state of Georgia paved the way for the expansion, which will run from the current eastern end point near the Publix on East/West Connector to Plant Atkinson Road near its intersection with Atlanta Road. PATH and Cobb County Department of Transportation (DOT) officials say the new trail should be open by summer 2021.
The ultimate goal is to connect the 61.5-mile Silver Comet with the Atlanta Beltline. To do so, another extension is needed to get over the Chattahoochee River and into the City of Atlanta, with further work on the Beltline side to make the connection. The state of Georgia holds first right of refusal to purchase another 4.3 miles of rail from CSX, though another option would be to run the trail along Atlanta Road in order to reach and cross the river.
Track removal for the current extension began at the south end and is moving north. From there, Cobb County will survey the corridor and PATH will begin design work this fall, with construction beginning soon after. McBrayer said the new portion will be 14 feet wide, which is two feet wider than the rest of the Silver Comet Trail.
The track removal is historic — rails have been in place continually since 1903, when the Seaboard Airline Railroad built its line from Atlanta to Birmingham. Once home of the Silver Comet passenger train, the track has been abandoned since 1988, after which most of it was repurposed as the Silver Comet Trail.
McBrayer said he toured the trail with CSX representatives earlier this week to make sure the condition of the property looked good..
“The next steps will be that Cobb County has agreed to do a topographical survey and a boundary survey for us,” he said. “That will give us the background for creating the construction documents.”
McBrayer estimates the survey work will start around June 15, by which time all the rails will be gone and the land will be graded, and last about 30 days.
“There’s not a whole lot to design for a rail corridor,” he said. “We think the [extension] will be heavily used coming under I-285. We will make it 14 feet wide, so it will look like the Silver Comet that’s there now except two feet wider.”
Along with the trail itself, PATH will decide where to implement small parks and rest areas. McBrayer said the aim is also to highlight the rail infrastructure that’s left behind.
Yanlin Wu, a Cobb DOT planner, said via email that “the county and PATH Foundation are working together to extend the Silver Comet Trail along Plant Atkinson and Atlanta Road to the river. PATH Foundation is working on the engineering and we are jointly coordinating with CSX to get permits for the sections of trail that cross over or under CSX property. The county will purchase the right of way and fund construction once we have approved funding.”
In addition, Cobb County is working on several “branches” connecting the Silver Comet to other areas such as downtown Austell. The idea is for more people to be able to bike from their house to the trail rather than driving to it and then getting on a bike.
“Now, many people drive to the Silver Comet and park at the trailheads. We hope to provide a safer and more enjoyable biking and walking environment not only on the Silver Comet, but also to the Silver Comet,” Wu said.
Haisten Willis is a freelance writer who lives in Smyrna with his wife, daughter and dog. He holds a master’s degree in journalism from California State University, Fresno, serves on the board of SPJ Georgia and even rides a bike when time allows.