Southern Rail Commission exhibits at Alabama League of Municipalities Annual Convention

The 81st Annual Convention of the Alabama League of Municipalities is underway in Huntsville through May 17.   J. William McFarland, Jr, Governor Bentley’s Designee who is attending on behalf of the Southern Rail Commission stated, “the Southern Rail Commission is committed to partnering with elected officials at the local levels of government throughout Alabama, and this Convention afforded us the opportunity to connect with a diverse group of leaders from throughout our state about passenger rail and economic development.” 

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Lanny Keller: A new commuter line makes sense for Baton Rouge to Crescent City

The above headline is wrong, if you talk to people in the transportation funding world. The “commuter” part that is, not the making-sense part.

That’s because cobbling together funding for the passenger train service between Baton Rouge and New Orleans is dependent on the rules of various federal programs. Intercity rail is a different category, apparently, than “commuter” rail.

But one of the dirty secrets of Baton Rouge-to-New Orleans intercity rails is that they would be a commuter line.

The substantial number of commuters already driving between the capital city and the Crescent City is growing, the Baton Rouge Area Chamber reports in a new study of the issue.

There is, of course, the issue of hurricane evacuation: “In light of the many thousands of southeast Louisiana residents without reliable access to a personal vehicle, and the lessons learned from (hurricane) Katrina and other recent disasters, resiliency is a critically important part of any conversation on infrastructure, and one that a rail line is uniquely qualified to address.”

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Gulf Coast Rail Service Working Group Works toward Restoring Passenger Rail

On December 4th, 2015, the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act became law, authorizing $305 billion over the next five years to the U.S Department of Transportation’s rail, highway, public transportation, safety, research and technology projects and programs. Among the FAST Act’s policy provisions, the Federal Rail Administration (FRA) was provided $500,000 to convene a working group and conduct a study on restoring passenger rail service from New Orleans, Louisiana to Orlando, Florida. Formerly called the Sunset Limited, “Amtrak operated along this corridor prior to suspending service in August 2005 due to Hurricane Katrina, which caused extensive damage to the rail infrastructure over which the service operated.”

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Passenger rail group finding priorities

Officials tasked with developing a plan to restore passenger rail service throughout the Gulf Coast are barreling toward their September deadline.

In anticipation of re-connecting rail service severed in 2005 by Hurricane Katrina, the 30-member Gulf Coast Rail Working Group is evaluating needed railway improvements, ridership feasibility studies and infrastructure upgrades.

The working group was a provision in a sweeping transportation bill approved by Congress in December. The Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act is a 5-year, $305-billion plan to improve the nation's infrastructure, including roads, bridges, transit systems and passenger rail networks.

The working group will receive $500,000 over two years to create a report to be presented to Congress.

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When Transportation Equals Economics

No one expected the crowds. No one.

But there they were. Hundreds upon hundreds of folks who had come out to their train stations along the Gulf Coast to welcome a train, a special train, a train that had been missing from their communities for over 10 years.

This train was full of national, state and local politicians, government officials, Amtrak officials, mayors, county commissioners, city council members, business representatives, chambers of commerce staffers, members of Congress and even one U.S. Senator, Roger Wicker, Republican of Mississippi. Yes, you heard correctly, a Republican. Really.

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Amtrak plans on fast track with multi-state task force

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - In February, Amtrak fans gathered from Bay St. Louis to Pascagoula to celebrate the possibility of passenger rail service may return to the Coast.

The serious work has begun, and the service is on the fast track for development. A multi-state work group hammered out details in Biloxi with a sense of urgency on Wednesday. 

“I have to believe that these communities are really looking forward to having this train return,” said Amtrak's Mark Murphy. “I’m an optimist, sir. I want to tell you it’s a 100 percent, but we have a lot of work that still has to be done.”

Murphy is one of more than 20 members of the task force, including the Federal Rail Administration, Southern Rail Commission, CSX and other stakeholders in the four states of the proposed service.

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Along Gulf Coast, Officials Make the Case for Passenger Rail’s Return

John Spain spends a lot of time on trains.

Just last month, the rail advocate took Amtrak’s Crescent line from New Orleans to Birmingham, Alabama for a meeting. But if he wanted to take the rail further east to Biloxi, Mississippi or even Jacksonville, Florida, he wouldn’t be able to.

Those communities used to be served via Amtrak’s Sunset Limited line. After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, its rails were severely damaged. Eventually, they were rebuilt. But the service was never fully restored.

Now, Congress has called on stakeholders to determine whether a new proposal to bring back Amtrak service in the booming region could succeed. Officials in favor of the project argue it is critical to the economic development of the area and would connect thousands of people to jobs, education and tourist attractions.

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Leaders Take Historic Trip across the Gulf Coast in Support of Passenger Rail Service

Passenger rail has historically played a significant role in safely transporting people across the nation effectively and economically. Rail services, such as Amtrak, interconnect cities throughout the country and at one time, connected the citizens of the Gulf Coast from New Orleans, Louisiana to Jacksonville, Florida.

However, following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, passenger rail service has not been available along this corridor for over ten years. In an effort to reestablish passenger rail along the Gulf Coast, the Southern Rail Commission (SRC) has been working to “engage and inform public and private rail interests to support and influence southeast rail initiatives”. Over the past decade, the SRC has helped leaders understand the benefits of passenger rail in the region and worked with Amtrak to develop a feasibility study on reinstating passenger rail along the coast.

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DeFuniak Springs rail service

While Tom McLaughlin’s front-page piece about the potential resumption of passenger rail service to the Gulf Coast was indeed welcome coverage, there were a few inaccuracies and omissions which I would like to bring to your readers’ attention.
Totally unmentioned in the story was the fact that DeFuniak Springs Mayor Bob Campbell, accompanied by this writer, boarded the Amtrak inspection train at Crestview and rode to Jacksonville, in an effort to call attention to the possibility of a potential train stop at DeFuniak Springs in Walton County. Aboard the train, the Mayor met with Amtrak, Southern Rail Commission and CSX officials, and also with former Meridian Mayor/Transportation for America chief John Robert Smith.
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Southern Rail commissioners evaluate Gulf passenger rail trip

Success with the Gulf Coast passenger rail trip last month continues to resound in federal departments and in the halls of Congress, a Southern Rail commissioner said Friday at a follow-up meeting on rail service in Ocean Springs.

Knox Ross, secretary for the commission and mayor of Pelahatchie, said the trip was in many ways valuable to the effort to restore passenger rail service along the northern Gulf.

"The crowds were there," Ross told the group. Another commissioner commented, "the flags got bigger at every stop."

The Amtrak passenger test trip went from New Orleans to Jacksonville, a route that existed before Katrina.

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Southern Cities, Officials Applaud Amtrak Train Run

For the first time since Hurricane Katrina made landfall a decade ago, a passenger train is rolling from New Orleans to Jacksonville, Florida.

Yesterday and today, local mayors, governors and even senators have been aboard an Amtrak inspection train running between the Southern cities as part of an ongoing push to restore passenger rail service along the whole Gulf Coast, which never resumed after the 2005 storm.

Dozens of other major cities — including Nashville, Las Vegas and Phoenix — have lost Amtrak service in the last 50 years. If service between New Orleans and Jacksonville resumes, it will be the first passenger rail restored in the U.S. in a half-century, connecting myriad small towns and cities, including Pensacola, Tallahassee, Bay St. Louis, Gulfport and Biloxi.

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Y'all aboard! Festive crowds, high hopes greet rail dignitaries

As the first Amtrak train rolled into downtown Mobile for the first time in more than 10 years Thursday, Jim Gilbert and Tim Lloyd stood watching and waving the American flag.

It was a patriotic moment for the two Mobile men who want to see passenger rail return to the Gulf Coast, specifically Amtrak.

"We're not getting less people here but more people and you can't keep expanding lanes on the interstates," said Gilbert. "This is needed."

They joined a group of onlookers near the Arthur R. Outlaw Mobile Convention Center to welcome an Amtrak inspection train to Mobile as part of a two-day, four-state voyage that government and rail officials are undertaking to examine the conditions of a CSX freight line. The line would be utilized by Amtrak if passenger rail is reauthorized along the Gulf Coast from New Orleans to Jacksonville and Orlando.

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