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.

To read more, CLICK HERE.

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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Joint Statement Issued by FRA and Gulf Coast Working Group

Over the last six months, the Gulf Coast Working Group has worked to outline a path that restores passenger rail service along the Gulf Coast. Support to achieve this goal has continued to only grow deeper and stronger. While we have made substantial progress already during our monthly meetings and numerous teleconferences, work remains to be done to determine the exact infrastructure necessary to support daily passenger service along the Gulf. The Working Group is committed to producing a report that provides the most accurate and useful information so we can get passenger trains back on the tracks along the Gulf Coast.

Letters were sent to Senator Wicker, Senator Thune, Senator Nelson, Rep. DeFazio and Rep. Shuster updating them on the status of the report - to read letter, CLICK HERE

ROGER WICKER: Infrastructure work stimulates state’s economic vitality

The future of our communities depends on investments that not only meet current challenges but also anticipate future ones. In traveling across the state over the past month, I have continually seen how Mississippi is looking ahead to create better transportation options, more opportunities for economic growth and a richer quality of life for everyone who calls our state home.

To read more, CLICK HERE

Southern Rail Commission applauds the selection of Charles “Wick” Moorman as the new President and CEO of Amtrak

Longtime head of Norfolk Southern tapped to lead nation’s passenger rail system

In response to the appointment of Charles W. “Wick” Moorman to the position of President of Amtrak, Greg White, Chairman of the Southern Rail Commission, released this statement:

“The Southern Rail Commission is encouraged by today’s appointment of Wick Moorman to serve as President and CEO of Amtrak. His appointment extends a long tradition of presidents with a track record of supporting a national, holistic passenger rail network that includes the booming northeast corridor, state-supported routes and critical long distance service. As the group responsible for the development and expansion of passenger rail in Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana, the Southern Rail Commission is also proud to see a native Mississippian take the helm of our nations passenger rail system.    

“Though his background is in freight rail as the long-time head of the Norfolk Southern Corporation where he spent nearly his entire career, he is a railroader first who clearly understands the value of providing reliable on-time performance to customers.

“Even during the recession, Moorman led massive capital investments at Norfolk Southern to improve service and expand their business. He has an impressive track record as an innovator when it comes to investing in research and new technology to find ways to move things faster and more efficiently.

“With passenger rail ridership reaching levels not seen in decades and the demand growing for new and expanded service in untapped markets, we welcome Moorman’s commitment to rail capital investments and his track record of working in good faith with Amtrak to provide quality service to riders.

“On behalf of my fellow commissioners at the Southern Rail Commission, we are eager to work with Mr. Moorman to bring new passenger rail service to the deep south and restore critical passenger rail service to the Gulf Coast, connecting millions of people in those communities — and tourists from beyond — with another valuable, efficient, affordable option for traveling to, from and along the Gulf Coast.”

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.”

To read more, CLICK HERE