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Richard Hyatt: Renewing the romance of the rails

It was as shiny as my mother's sterling silver coffee urn, and in the evening sun the cars on the Man O' War looked like someone had buffed and polished them before they left Terminal Station.

You could set your watch by that whistle, and every Friday around 7 p.m., it roused us out of our booth by the window so I could go outside and wave at that unforgettable train.

Every car honored an Army post in Georgia. My favorite was the observation car, named after Fort Benning. Between 1947 and 1970, the train carried passengers between Atlanta and Columbus. In busier times, it made three round-trips a day, and the 117-mile journey took around three-hours. A ticket cost $3.57.

Every week, my family ate in that same restaurant next to the train tracks in East Point.

And when I heard that whistle, it made me smile.

I wanted to ride on that train so bad. My folks promised that one day we would take it to Columbus to see my aunt and uncle.

We never did, and in 1970 -- like its sister train the Nancy Hanks -- the Man O' War was put out to pasture after riding Central of Georgia rails for 23 years. By then, it was making only one trip a day.

The last passenger train to board passengers at Union Station was the City of Miami in 1971, but Mayor Teresa Tomlinson wants to change history.

She is pushing for a $6 million grant to study the environmental impact of a high-speed rail to Atlanta with one stop in Newnan.

This week the Newnan city council unanimously supported Tomlinson's efforts, passing a resolution backing a study of the $3.9 billion project.

Plans call for using existing interstate rights-of-way. The train could reach speeds of 220 miles per hour and arrive at Hartsfield-Jackson in 61 minutes.

The world moves faster than it did during the time of the Man O' War, and getting to Atlanta in one hour is appealing. So is not having to look for parking and escaping the stress of Atlanta traffic.

But not having a car creates problems, and so do the projected fares.

As a child I wanted to experience the charm of the Man O' War.

As an adult, I can think of other ways to spend $3.9 billion.

-- Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent. Reach him at