Mobile joins coalition to support restoring passenger rail service to Gulf Coast

The City of Mobile is the latest municipality to join a coalition of cities across the Gulf Coast that support the restoration of a passenger rail service extending from New Orleans to Orlando.

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

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Passenger rail between New Orleans and Orlando being studied

Efforts are ongoing to bring back passenger rail between New Orleans and Orlando, a route that never returned after Hurricane Katrina.

On Wednesday (June 22), the Jefferson Parish Council approved a resolution that would show support for re-establishing the line -- one of many local governments along the route that have weighed in. The Amtrak line would in some ways be an extension of a line currently running from Chicago to New Orleans, though it would pick up additional crews and equipment when it stops in New Orleans, said John Spain, vice chairman of the Southern Rail Commission, who is based in Baton Rouge.

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Official Statement by Southern Rail Commission

The Southern Rail Commission (SRC) issues this statement to correct recent misleading and erroneous information reported by a few media outlets that have circulated regarding Corridor Capital, which has been falsely described as a “passenger rail operator.”

Recent news reports about a passenger rail provider locating in Montgomery, Alabama and starting multiple passenger services across the state have created serious concern among members of the Southern Rail Commission, and those who are advancing the efforts of passenger rail.  These reports imply that the Southern Rail Commission was the source for information presented in these reports, and implied that the SRC is a supporter of these efforts.  These reports were erroneous and misleading, and do not represent the official position of the Southern Rail Commission. The SRC does not currently have any business with Corridor Capital, nor pending business.

In fact, the SRC had one ten-minute presentation at a public meeting last year from Corridor Capital. No action was taken following their presentation, nor is any action expected.  The SRC had no conversations or negotiations with them prior to, nor since, that time.  In fact, in direct contradiction of comments made in the recent press stories about Corridor Capital “having existing operations for many years” in the Midwest and Northeast, their representative stated at the SRC meeting that they “do not operate any train services at this time.” 

The SRC has enjoyed a strong partnership with Amtrak, who has shown record ridership in recent years and demonstrated increasing revenue.  Our freight rail partners have indicated that they have had no conversations with Corridor Capital.  Local and state elected officials have denied having more than a cursory conversation with Corridor Capital, and they have had no negotiations.  Thus, the suggestion that Corridor Capital can operate passenger service within the next 18 months is suspect, at best.

While the SRC is very supportive of enhanced and improved passenger rail service from potential providers, we are committed to openness, honesty and accuracy, and we want to balance public expectations by providing reasonable timeframes for progress backed by data, analysis and studies. Our state and national leaders expect nothing less from us, and it is our goal to deliver that on behalf of our states.

The SRC has worked diligently over the past couple of years with our industry partners, including Amtrak, CSX, Norfolk Southern, and other freight railroads, along with the Federal Railroad Administration, with our Congressional delegations, and with state and local government and business leaders, to position our region for the return of passenger rail service – first along the Gulf Coast, and then for the return or development of other inter-city rail services.

We cannot overstate how vital each of these partners are to our efforts.  The great working relationships that are being developed – and the strong grassroots support that is growing– provide our region with the best opportunity we have had in many years to see expanded passenger rail service become reality.

The SRC has an established protocol for public comments and the contact authorized to speak on behalf of the SRC is Greg White, Chair. Send inquiries to info@cpex.org.

Through Recent Vote, City Commissioners Renew Support For Amtrak's Return

Tallahassee City Commissioners say they support an ongoing effort to return Amtrak to the area. They recently unanimously voted yes on a resolution to restore the passenger rail service. The route would be between New Orleans and Orlando. 

Former City Mayor John Marks is a member of the Gulf Coast Rail Working Group, which has been working to get Amtrak reestablished along the Gulf Coast. But, he told the commissioners that despite their backing, Congress has still not budgeted any funds.

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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.” 

To read more, click here.

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.

To read more, CLICK HERE.