President Trump Sought to Cut Funding to Amtrak Before Deadly Derailment

President Donald Trump claims his infrastructure bill could have prevented Monday’s deadly Amtrak incident, but his own administration sought to cut funding to the nation’s rail system earlier this year.

In May, President Trump released his transportation budget, which dramatically slashed federal aid to Amtrak by 13 percent. The budget, which reflects White House priorities and serves as a guide for Congress, proposed deep cuts in funding for long-distance service, expanding transit lines and construction grants.

“I’m just looking at the smoking wreckage,” Sean Jeans-Gail, the vice president of the National Association of Railroad Passengers, said in an eerily predictive comment this May.

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Stakeholder meetings explore passenger rail station locations, transit options

The engineering firm hired to design the stations for a New Orleans to Baton Rouge passenger rail held stakeholder meetings this week downtown and in the health district, diving into the specifics of how to integrate the rail with other forms of transit and spur economic development. 

HNTB, which landed a $450,000 city-parish contract to come up with conceptual designs for two train stations in Baton Rouge, is now in the “listening and data-gathering phase,” says Bryan Jones, HNTB’s Gulf Coast District Deputy Office Leader. 

The stakeholder meetings—which included local officials and leaders of neighborhood associations—as well as a steering committee meeting, also held this week, kicked off discussions over how to best integrate the two proposed rail stations with the Capital Area Transit System, ride-hailing services and bike programs, like the nascent Bike Share. The groups also began discussing in greater detail where exactly the rail stations would go.

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Infrastructure planning for Gonzales train station on track

GONZALES - A kick-off meeting last week between Gonzales city administrators and train transportation experts set into motion the planning for what will be needed, and how much it will cost, to build a train station here.

Gonzales would be one of seven stops along a future commuter rail line envisioned between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, although a financing source has not yet been identified for the long-discussed major initiative. 

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NARP: Amtrak long-distance trains boost local, national economies

Ending funding of Amtrak long-distance routes would disproportionately affect low income households in rural communities across the country, according to a report released today by the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP).

NARP's "Dismantling a National Transportation Network" report was issued in response to President Donald Trump's fiscal-year 2018 budget proposal earlier this year that called for cutting funding to certain long-distance routes in Amtrak's national network.

The report "is a sharp rebuke to recent budget proposals from the White House and members of Congress that would have negatively affected the local economies for 45 percent of American taxpayers," NARP officials said in a press release.

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Bloggers could help bring passenger train service to Coast

PASS CHRISTIAN, MS (WLOX) - Two young women from New Jersey are on an Amtrak adventure; traveling America and writing stories for the National Association of Railroad Passengers. 

Coast leaders met with Caitlin Boyle and Victoria Principato in hopes that their experience will help sell the benefits of rail service in South Mississippi along an old route from Florida to California.

"There are a lot of different benefits to communities who have a train stop. We've seen a lot of economic development in cities and towns we've stopped in from the train. That's been very cool," said Victoria.

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Gonzales to hire consultant for train depot planning

By late September, Gonzales should have a consultant on board to plan a train depot in the heart of the city for a proposed commuter rail line between Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

The city began advertising last week for bids, with a deadline of Sept. 21, for the $100,000 planning project that Gonzales City Engineer Jackie Baumann expects will take up to a year.

The project is being funded by a $50,000 grant from the Federal Railroad Administration, awarded late last year by the Southern Rail Commission, that will be matched by Gonzales. 

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Gulf Coast leaders push to restore passenger train service with two New Orleans routes

A group of Gulf Coast leaders has recommended that Amtrak restore a passenger train route that goes through the Gulf Coast.

The Gulf Coast Working Group in a report issued Monday night recommended Congress consider two routes — a New Orleans to Orlando, Florida daily round trip route and a New Orleans to Mobile, Alabama daily round trip.

"This report makes clear the need to restore passenger rail service along the Gulf Coast and provides a path to get us there," said U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, who helped create the working group Congress approved as part of the FAST Act in 2015. "While there's lots of work ahead, this service will not only help us meet the future transportation needs of the region but could also be a boon for tourism and the local economy."

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Southern Rail Commission releases comments on Gulf Coast Working Group's Report to Congress

MEDIA RELEASE

July 18, 2017

Yesterday’s delivery to Congress of the Gulf Coast Passenger Rail Working Group’s Final Report by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) provides positive endorsement for the Southern Rail Commission’s long standing recommendation that passenger rail service be restored across America’s Gulf Coast. The Report details anticipated capital costs of less than $112M, plus estimated $5M for project development and planning. The culmination of more than 18 months of dedicated service on the part of the Gulf Coast Working Group (GCWG) appointees, including Amtrak, CSX, FRA, SRC, and over 30 regional stakeholders, the Report is the result of comprehensive, thoughtful analysis and unbiased consideration of participants’ input.

The GCWG was created by Congress to study this service in Section 11304 of Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act. This provision stated that FRA is to “convene a working group to evaluate the restoration of intercity rail passenger service in the Gulf Coast region between New Orleans, Louisiana, and Orlando, Florida.” The Southern Rail Commission was appointed by name in the FAST Act to be part of this group.

“We are encouraged that FRA has found that rail service can begin quickly and at a reasonable cost.  The SRC is grateful for the unified political and grassroots support the restoration of Gulf Coast passenger rail service has received from Mayors to Governors to the gulf south's Congressional Delegation,” said Greg White, Chairman of the SRC. “Since 2012, the base of this support has consistently expressed that daily passenger service is essential for the economic resiliency of America’s gulf coast.”

All SRC members are especially pleased to see this Report’s recommendations regarding passenger service for the Gulf Coast, and give full support to the Report’s consideration of safety for all passenger rail users, including Positive Train Control and other recommended safety measures.

The GCWG recommended two preferred service options: daily long-distance train service between Orlando and New Orleans with estimated annual operating need of $5.48M, and a daily regional train between New Orleans to Mobile with an estimated annual operating need of $4M.

The Report outlines a number of capital improvements and operating costs associated with launching these services, and some of this funding could be acquired through new federal rail programs such as the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) program for capital expenses and from the Restoration and Enhancement Grant (REG) Program for operating support. The SRC has also received significant interest and initial commitments from private sector partners across the gulf coast interested in contributing to the rail project. 

Also noted in the Report, the SRC and FRA are currently providing $1.33M in grant funds to communities in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama for station area planning and rail safety improvements. These communities have contributed their own cash match, resulting in more than $2.6M in projects underway in preparation for service restoration.

Attached as a part of the FRA report is a letter from the Southern Rail Commission that addresses what we consider unjustifiable cost demands by CSX. The FRA and SRC have diligently worked to address the purported obstacles to restoring service that CSX identified.  Recognizing that issues and details remain to be negotiated and resolved, the GCWG Report recommends continued coordination and collaboration among Working Group partners.  The SRC remains committed to being a part of these ongoing efforts.

“Congress has identified this route as being of high importance and interest for the public”, said Greg White.  “Continued investments in our national passenger rail system are vital as our society becomes increasingly mobile and we look for ways to improve access to skilled workers, jobs, and new opportunities for economic development. The SRC is committed to ensuring the Gulf Coast region of our country is not left out.”

 

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Click here to download the Gulf Coast Working Group's Report to Congress (1.06MB)

Click here to download the SRC's letter to the FRA (495KB)

Click here to visit the FRA's website to download the full appendix to the GCWG's report (88MB)

Click here to download full text of this media release

Baton Rouge-to-New Orleans passenger rail not derailed by gas tax failure

Louisiana officials say the failed gas tax increase that would have raised hundreds of millions of dollars for transportation projects has not derailed a long-discussed passenger train service between New Orleans and Baton Rouge.

But the project remains in the earliest of planning stages, and the state and local governments will have to find millions of dollars at a time of great uncertainty for financing such projects.

The federal government will likely cover most of the roughly $260 million price tag, says Shawn Wilson, Department of Transportation and Development secretary, while locals and public-private partnerships are expected to pick up some of the slack. According to a 2014 study, the service would also command an annual net operating cost of almost $7 million.

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