Transportation for America — the Southern Rail Commission's strategic partner — has outlined information about the genesis of the SRC and its vision for the future. Included in the presentation was a summary of recent rail-related legislation and how state elected officials voted in regards to those bills. It also includes a case study of Meridian, Mississippi explaining how rail can be a tool for civic revitalization and economic development.
In our ever-changing world, rail will become an increasingly important mode of transportation for the 75% of urban city residents. In their new report — Future of Rail 2050 — global design firm, Arup, offers their perspective on how rail technology will change in the next half century.
A new train service between Miami and Orlando may become a model for the rest of the country
According to an article in The Atlantic, it has been 30 years since a private intercity passenger rail has operated in the United States — and it has been even longer since a new private service was introduced.
Beginning in 2016, All Aboard Florida will run 32 departures a day between Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach, with service extending to Orlando.
In South Florida, around the three initial stations, the company will develop 4.2 million square feet of real estate. In Orlando, the terminus will be located at the airport and connect to a new commuter rail line at a sparkling, state-funded $215 million transportation hub.
On Monday, April 28, the Southern Rail Commission submitted an application to the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) for $1,016,000 in TIGER funding. The funding would support a $1,270,000 planning project to assess the feasibility of and intermodal needs for restoring suspended intercity passenger rail operations to a daily service level along the Gulf Coast. This application was one of approximately 950 applications submitted to USDOT this round (no breakdown on planning versus capital applications are yet available). The application included 30 letters of support from elected leaders and stakeholders across the region Over the next month, we will work on bringing in additional support for the project and non-federal match.
The Southern Rail Commission is pleased to announce that it has engaged Transportation for America to provide strategic consulting services to help the Commission identify opportunities at the federal level to support expanded passenger rail service in the states of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. Transportation for America is an alliance of elected, business, and civic leaders from communities across the country, united to ensure that states and the federal government step up to invest in smart, homegrown, locally-driven transportation solutions.
“Transportation for America is a nationally-recognized leader in advising local and regional organizations on how to develop and advance transportation solutions that provide strong return on investment and spur economic growth,” said Knox Ross, SRC Chairman. “I am confident that this new partnership will help the SRC move passenger rail forward in the Southeast.”
Led by Chairman John Robert Smith, former Mayor of Meridian, MS and former Chairman of the Amtrak Board of Directors, Transportation for America brings a team of experts with years of experience working for the U.S. Department of Transportation, the U.S. Senate and House, and various local and regional transportation agencies.
On April 8-9, 2014, Southern Rail Commission Chairman Knox Ross, Vice Chairman Greg White, and Secretary-Treasurer John Spain traveled to Washington DC for a series of meetings with the Federal Railroad Administration and key Congressional offices. The meetings had twin goals: to educate federal officials regarding SRC’s active engagement in critical rail projects in the Southeast, as well as to inform those officials of SRC’s federal priorities related to passenger rail legislation and funding. The Commissioners clearly conveyed the sense of excitement in the Southeast regarding passenger rail and the economic benefits that would result from increased service. These messages were well-received by all who heard them.
The Commissioners met with Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo and his staff for nearly an hour, sharing SRC’s vision and discussing specific activities, plans, and projects underway to improve passenger rail connections in the region. The Administrator encouraged on-going coordination between the SRC and the FRA. The Commissioners also informed the Administrator of the SRC’s intent to submit an application for federal TIGER funding at the end of this month. FRA staff will be part of the team at the U.S. Department of Transportation who will review those applications this summer.
The Commissioners also met with senior Republican and Democratic staff of the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee and the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, the two Congressional committees responsible for crafting legislation to replace the expired Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act on 2008 (PRIIA). The Commissioners conveyed the importance of maintaining the national, long-distance passenger rail network as well as expanding service in key corridors such as Baton Rouge – New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast. Committee staff appreciated hearing directly from business leaders about the importance of rail for their communities. While the schedule for release of a PRIIA reauthorization bill is not yet set, the staff expressed willingness to continue engaging with the SRC as the process moves forward.
Meetings were also held with offices from the regional Congressional delegation, including Senators Landrieu and Wicker and Representatives Harper, Aderholt, and Roby. These meetings followed upon meetings held in early April by Commissioner Billy McFarland with Senators Sessions and Shelby. These meetings were positive and supportive of the SRC’s efforts.
Amtrak President Joe Boardman will be visiting Mississippi in early April. He will be meeting with the Governor as well as elected and business leaders in Jackson, including SRC Chairman Knox Ross, and with the Mayor of Meridian. T4A Chairman John Robert Smith and SRC Chairman Knox Ross have briefed the Governor’s staff about the current state of play of passenger rail in Mississippi, particularly focusing on the need for passenger rail to fill out the state’s highway/aviation network, as highways are becoming more congested and essential air service is being cut back.
A study commissioned by regional transit organizations and the Baton Rouge Area Foundation says that a new passenger train service linking New Orleans and Baton Rouge on existing freight trackage, with intermediate stops and beginning as twice-daily trips, could ultimately grow to regular service with a station near New Orleans International Airport.
A delegation of Louisiana representatives, including members of the Southern Rail Commission, met with federal transportation officials last week about the possibility of starting passenger rail service between New Orleans and Baton Rouge.