Moorman: Amtrak committed to reviving Gulf Coast service

Amtrak President and Chief Executive Officer Wick Moorman has pledged support for restoring service from New Orleans to Orlando, Fla., along the Gulf Coast.

Service along the corridor has been suspended since Hurricane Katrina hit the region in 2005.

In a March 3 letter to Southern Rail Commission (SRC) Chairman Greg White, Moorman emphasized Amtrak's "firm commitment to the Gulf Coast project," along with the railroad's interest and support for other projects underway in the region.

SRC also is pushing to implement Amtrak service between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, La., and to extend the railroad's long-distance Crescent service west of Meridian, Miss.

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Governor Edwards receives strong letter of support from Amtrak CEO Wick Moorman

In what may be Amtrak’s strongest showing of support in print for states’ efforts for passenger rail service, Amtrak CEO Wick Moorman issued a letter at the first 2017 quarterly meeting of the Southern Rail Commission, including the following remarks:

“We are committed to operating both the long distance and corridor services on the Gulf Coast route as soon as the necessary funding can be arranged, and the necessary agreements are in place to implement the service… Amtrak strongly supports these projects and will continue to do everything we can to work with you to bring these services to completion. I am committed along with the rest of the Amtrak team to working with the Commission and the Gulf Coast states to obtain the necessary commitments from the host railroads to determine the capital and operating needs of each service, in order to advance all of these important projects.” 

Governor John Bel Edwards voiced support of the SRC’s work and noted that during the 2015 election, all Gubernatorial candidates were in favor of a Baton Rouge to New Orleans rail. He stated the need for a regional approach to economic competitiveness for workers commuting between jobs along the river, as well as access to sports arenas in both cities, and service to the new airport terminal in New Orleans.

Governor Edwards is currently working to stabilize the state budget, and hopes in the future to strategically invest in infrastructure and opportunities to advance passenger rail service throughout the state. In his recent meeting with federal Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Edwards reported that rail is a major component of the President’s infrastructure push.

The letter was presented to Governor Edwards at the meeting by Mark Murphy, Amtrak Vice President, Long Distance Services Business Development. The Amtrak letter includes references to the Gulf Coast service in addition to longer-term SRC goals for new routes from Baton Rouge to New Orleans and across Central Mississippi and Northern Louisiana through Eastern Texas.

For full text of Amtrak's letter of support click HERE.

Market Street, rail service among topics in Pascagoula mayor's State of the City address

PASCAGOULA, Miss. - Mayor Jim Blevins addressed a variety of opportunities and challenges in his annual State of the City address on Tuesday, including the difficulty of improving Market Street and his high hopes for the return of Amtrak service.

Blevins covered a range of topics in his address at the Grand Magnolia Ballroom.

Blevins points of emphasis included continued growth of the community and the passing of the prepared food tax increase, which will fund improvement to recreation facilities. Because of the passage of the referendum, revenue generated is expected to be between $775,000 and $1 million annually.

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Mayors Office: Passenger Rail Service Closer

Mobile, Ala.— January 11, 2017—The City of Mobile has received a  $125,000 grant to design a new passenger rail station in Downtown Mobile from the Southern Rail Commission    The grant will allow for the architectural design and for a Master plan to be developed.

“This is the next step towards making the Gulf Coast passenger rail service a reality,” said Mayor Stimpson. “This service will facilitate job creation, enhance tourism and reduce environmental and roadway impacts. It will not only connect cities across the Gulf Coast, but will also link Mobile to the Midwest, West Coast and across the nation. All of our citizens will benefit, but especially those with limited transportation options or physical challenges.”

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Funds put train station upgrades on track in 3 states

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) - Some of Alabama’s largest cities are getting federal help for projects that involve upgrading their train stations or developing new ones.

Birmingham, Mobile, Anniston and Tuscaloosa are each getting a share of $728,957 in grants for Alabama, Al.com reported (http://bit.ly/2hZbfKf ).

Also receiving grants are Baton Rouge, Gonzales and St. John Parish in Louisiana, and Biloxi, Gulfport and Pascagoula in Mississippi.

The money had been earmarked years ago, and officials with the Southern Rail Commission recently doled it out to the four cities, the news site reported.

All told, the three states are getting $2.5 million in federal money for train station-related projects.

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Southern Rail Commission announces funding for Passenger Rail Stations

Eleven communities in AL, LA, MS to receive grants for station area planning, construction

At a meeting Dec. 19 in Bay St. Louis, MS, the Southern Rail Commission (SRC) announces the allocations for more than $2 million in funding through the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to 11 communities in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, that are planning for restored and improved passenger rail service.

A total of 11 grants will be awarded to the following communities for station-area planning and construction projects that will ensure safe access and better connectivity to and from the station, improved convenience for riders, updated facilities, and leveraged economic opportunity that comes with station redevelopment:

Alabama:

·       City of Anniston

·       City of Birmingham

·       City of Mobile

·       City of Tuscaloosa

Louisiana:

·       Baton Rouge

·       City of Gonzales

·       St. John Parish

Mississippi:

·       City of Bay St. Louis

·       City of Biloxi

·       City of Gulfport

·       City of Pascagoula

These communities have demonstrated a commitment to planning for intermodal and transit connections, preparing themselves to better leverage the economic opportunity presented by with enhanced and re-established passenger rail service. Funds are provided for improvements to existing stations, as well as planning for new stations.

Southern Rail Commission Chairman Greg White states, “Our Congressional delegation has led the cause of restoring rail to Gulf Coast at the federal level, leveraging the strong local demand that has been building since 2005,” says White. “We are especially grateful to Senators Cochran and Wicker of Mississippi, in particular, who played a critical role in accelerating the availability of these Federal Railroad Administration funds, building on the growing momentum to keep this large-scale project moving forward.”

The SRC worked side by side with their Congressional delegation, the FRA, host railroads, and Amtrak to pursue federal funds to restore passenger rail service in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.

“Passenger rail service has been out of commission in many of these communities since Hurricane Katrina destroyed rail infrastructure across the Gulf Coast in 2005,” says Knox Ross Secretary-Treasurer of SRC. “These awards demonstrate the strong commitment by both Senators Cochran and Wicker and our Mississippi cities to seeing Amtrak return to the Gulf Coast.   The SRC is pleased to partner with these cities to bring back Amtrak to the Gulf Coast.”

“These grants will allow our Louisiana communities to locally plan their stations for the re-establishment of passenger rail connecting the New Orleans to Baton Rouge super-region, a project that has tremendous support from the business community and is a priority for Governor Bel Edwards”, said John Spain, Vice- Chair of SRC.

A Working Group, designated by the FAST Act and chaired by the Federal Railroad Administration, which includes members from CSX, Amtrak, the SRC, local elected officials, state DOTs, MPOs, businesses, and tribes representing interests of communities in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, has been evaluating the needs in order to reach an agreement on the phasing of capital construction and schedule for the restored passenger rail service.

The SRC hosted an “inspection train tour” in coordination with Amtrak in February 2016 that travelled between New Orleans, Louisiana and Jacksonville, Florida, and the train was greeted with thousands of enthusiastic supporters at every stop along the corridor.  “The inspection train tour showed tremendous local support throughout the Gulf Coast – we were blown away the crowds that met us in every city along the route. The local demand is there. People want the trains to come back to their towns.”

Funds will be available in early 2017. Projects are expected to be completed within 24 months of receiving the awards.

To read more, click here

Input sought on passenger rail-service restoration

Restoration of passenger rail service could be in the Gulf Coast’s future.

The FAST Act established the Gulf Coast Rail Service Working Group in December 2015 to evaluate restoration of rail passenger service between New Orleans, Louisiana and Orlando.

The previously existing passenger rail service was stopped before Hurricane Katrina. Damage to the route has been repaired and freight service was restored, but passenger rail service has not been restored.

The group evaluating possible restoration of passenger rail service includes members from the Federal Railroad Administration, Amtrak, CSX, Southern Rail Commission, West Florida Regional Planning Council, and other stakeholders along the Gulf Coast.

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Destin leaders lend support to return of rail service

DESTIN — The final report on the proposal to restore passenger rail service to the Gulf Coast could be submitted to the federal government by the end of the year, a regional planner said recently.

Amtrak’s Sunset Crescent route from New Orleans to Jacksonville has been suspended since 2005, when portions of the rail infrastructure were damaged by Hurricane Katrina. Rail lines destroyed by the storm had been rebuilt by 2006, but the passenger rail service – which was known for its routinely late trains – has never been re-established.

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Working together to establish Live Oak as a rail stop

Officials in Suwannee County and Live Oak are petitioning Amtrak and the Southern Rail Commission (SRC) to make Live Oak a stop as passenger rail service is restored between New Orleans and Jacksonville. No passenger train has run on the line since Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005. Suwannee County Economic Development Director Dr. Alvin B. Jackson, Jr. says a stop at Live Oak, near the crossroads of I-75 and I-10, would generate between $12.25 and $12.72 million annually for Amtrak. SRC officials project 138,300 passengers would use the Live Oak station, which would cost only $5.48 million annually to run. Information is available at AllAboardLiveOak.com.

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White: Commission making progress toward restoring rail

A working group established to develop a capital plan to help restore rail service is making great strides toward it, officials said this week.

Southern Rail Commission Chairman Greg White said Congress passed a Surface Transportation Bill – Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, also known as FAST Act of 2015, to include passenger rail authorization along with highway and transit needs for the first time in U.S. history.

“The Southern Rail Commission has identified the return of passenger service to the Gulf Coast as one of our priorities, along with new service from Baton Rouge to New Orleans, new service between Meridian, Miss., and Dallas-Fort Worth, and a return of service between Birmingham and Mobile,” White said.

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SRC files motion to protect On Time Performance measures

The Southern Rail Commission has moved to defend a recent Surface Transportation Board ruling that On Time Performance, a train line’s rate of punctuality, be measured at all stations on the route.  The SRC and nine passenger advocacy organizations have motioned to intervene in an appeal of that ruling filed by freight railroad companies in the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. 

Should the freight railroads’ appeal succeed, On Time Performance would be measured at line end points, leaving no accountability to the users of stops in between.

The Surface Transportation Board acts as an arbiter for disputes between Amtrak and the various freight rail companies. Amtrak’s own intervention on the appeal, in support of the STB rule, has been granted. Other agencies joining the SRC’s intervention include:

  *   All Aboard Indiana

  *   All Aboard Ohio

  *   All Aboard Wisconsin

  *   ELPC

  *   Friends of the Cardinal

  *   Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers, Inc.

  *   Midwest High Speed Rail Association

  *   National Association of Railroad Passengers

  *   Virginians for High Speed Rail

SRC and its partners make the case for all-station On Time Performance measurement in their motion found HERE.  A decision on the motion for intervention by the appeals court is pending. Stay tuned for more updates

Lengthened Amtrak platform could handle bicycle tourism, Anniston officials say

Plans are underway to lengthen Anniston’s Amtrak station train platform, and with that comes the potential for passengers to bring along bicycles, Anniston Mayor Vaughn Stewart said Friday.

Greg White, chairman of the Southern Rail Commission, said at a meeting of that body in Anniston on Friday that within a few weeks the federal government will announce whether Anniston will get a grant to help pay for that platform extension.

Stewart said that Amtrak suggested the city extend the platform by 400 feet so that the rail company’s Crescent line can load and unload passengers without moving the train incrementally to do so.  

Even if that extension comes to be, the city will still have to persuade Amtrak to allow passengers to bring their bicycles with them, Stewart said, but Amtrak has expressed an interest in allowing just that. Because the train service runs between New York and New Orleans, local officials envision a broad usage by bicyclists.   

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