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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The Human Cost of Losing Amtrak

Hundreds of towns and cities would lose rail service under President Trump’s proposed budget—and some of them have few other options.

The Amtrak station in Mobile, Alabama closed in 2005, after Hurricane Katrina flooded it. The storm wiped out passenger rail service across the Gulf Coast region, closing stations between Florida and Louisiana. Mobile’s waterlogged station was razed in 2007.

The loss of the Gulf Coast service left Mobile residents who don’t drive with fewer transportation options. While there’s an airport within a half-hour’s drive, it’s quite expensive to fly out of the city: A flight from Mobile to Orlando can cost up to $500. Meanwhile, bus lines have decreased service, too, due to budget problems.

But in recent years, there have been signs of life for restored rail service. In 2016, Mobile received a $125,00 grant from the Southern Rail Commission (SRC)—a group that promotes railway travel and distributes federal grants—to build a new station. Knox Ross, the secretary/treasurer of the SRC, says that funds previously earmarked for safety upgrades were repurposed for improvements, and Mobile received a 50/50 match grant from the SRC to rebuild their lost station.

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Mapping Amtrak Service, Before and After the Trump Budget

Among the many groups of Americans who are eyeing President Donald Trump’s proposed budget with acute anxiety: rail travelers. The 2018 budget outline includes a 13 percent cut to the Department of Transportation, which would eliminate federal subsidies for long-distance Amtrak routes and likely erase train travel among hundreds of cities and towns.

What might the future landscape of U.S. passenger rail look like? For an answer we turn to Will Geary, who’s drawn out a fine side-by-side comparison of today’s Amtrak routes and those that would remain after such cuts took effect.

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Passenger rail advocates say 'it's way past time' to restore New Orleans-Orlando service

Plans to reconnect New Orleans and Orlando with a daily service passenger train are closer to reality, more than a decade after Hurricane Katrina damaged railroad tracks along the Gulf Coast, according to Amtrak and other officials who met Thursday (April 13) at the Regional Transportation Management Center on Veterans Boulevard. 

Still, President Donald Trump's 2018 budget proposal loomed over the meeting. A March 16 Washington Post story said Trump's proposal cuts 13 percent of Transportation Department funding, terminating federal support for Amtrak's national rail system. Rail advocates on Thursday emphasized the need for supporters to continue pushing for the national system, while also remaining optimistic about the chances of New Orleans to Orlando service moving forward despite the budget threats.

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Work Continues On Passenger Rail Resurrection

Restoration of passenger rail service along the Gulf Coast is the focus of meetings this week by Amtrak and the Southern Rail Commission.

Six meetings, which began on Tuesday in Jacksonville and Live Oak, Florida, will feature what’s next in the work to get the trains back on track for the first time since before Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

“It’s been about 14 months since we ran the demonstration train across the route, and people are curious where things stand,” said Amtrak spokesman Mark Magliari.

To that end, they’re out meeting with residents in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. Other meetings are scheduled for Wednesday in Marianna and Mobile, Alabama. The final two sessions are set for Thursday in Gulfport, Mississippi and New Orleans.

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Southern Rail Commisssion and Amtrak layout next steps for gulf coast passenger rail service: Three days of meetings in four states

Southern Rail Commission (SRC) and Amtrak are hosting meetings in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana to update stakeholders on progress made since they operated an inspection train tour across the Gulf Coast route in Feb. 2016 and to share the next steps necessary to bring new Amtrak service to reality.

Meetings will be held in Jacksonville, Live Oak and Marianna, Fla.; Mobile, Ala.; Gulfport, Miss.; and New Orleans.

A hashtag of #yallaboard will be used by participants and the public can follow along on the SRC’s feed on Twitter @SouthernRailCms.

Apr. 11:

Florida:
Jacksonville, 9:30 a.m., North Florida Transportation Planning Organization; 980 N. Jefferson St.
Live Oak, 1:30 p.m.; 208 N. Ohio Ave.

Apr. 12:

Florida:
Marianna, 10 a.m., 2875 Caledonia St. Alabama:
Mobile, 4 p.m., Government Plaza, Multi- Purpose Room; 205 Government St.

Apr. 13:

Mississippi:
Gulfport, 10 a.m., City Hall,
2309 15th St.


Louisiana:
New Orleans, 2:30 p.m. Regional Planning Commission, 10 Veterans Blvd.

All times local. Download meeting agenda here. Download full text media advisory here.

These meetings will be open to news media, please contact Amtrak or SRC:

Amtrak Contact: Marc Magliari 312 544.5390 MediaRelationsChicago@Amtrak.com

SRC Contact: Rachel DiResto 225 389-7250 info@cpex.org

An Amtrak railway in North Louisiana? 'It looks better than it has before'

A long-distance passenger rail service along the I-20 Corridor in North Louisiana has long been a dream and topic of discussion for local officials.

Now, the time seems right for the dream to come to fruition, said Bossier Parish Administrator Bill Altimus, who also serves as chair for the National Association of Counties subcommittee concerning transit and rail.

“I’ve been messing with it for 20 years, and this is really the first time I’ve seen pretty much perfect alignment on all sides that they want this done,” Altimus said. “Everybody is in agreement and in sync to do this.”

As Gov. John Bel Edwards is scheduled to meet with Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant in the coming weeks, the Bossier Parish Police Jury will vote soon on a resolution showing its support for this venture, which would involve Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.

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Rail Commission optimistic about service restoration despite Trump’s budget proposal

The fate of a proposal to restore passenger rail service along the Gulf Coast could lie in the hands of Congress after President Donald Trump’s proposed budget — America First – would cut off 23 of 46 states – including Alabama, from the company’s long distance routes.

The president’s proposed budget calls for an overall 12.7 percent reduction in the U.S. Department of Transportation’s budget.

Southern Rail Commission Chairman Greg White said that if the president’s budget is taken at face value it would have a detrimental effect on their project and rail service across the country.

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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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