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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Governor Edwards receives strong letter of support from Amtrak CEO Wick Moorman

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards (center) with Amtrak's Vice President, Long Distance Services Business DevelopmentMark Murphy (left) and Director of Government Affairs-South Todd Stennis (right)

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards (center) with Amtrak's Vice President, Long Distance Services Business DevelopmentMark Murphy (left) and Director of Government Affairs-South Todd Stennis (right)

In what may be Amtrak’s strongest showing of support in print for states’ efforts for passenger rail service, Amtrak CEO Wick Moorman issued a letter at the first 2017 quarterly meeting of the Southern Rail Commission, including the following remarks:

“We are committed to operating both the long distance and corridor services on the Gulf Coast route as soon as the necessary funding can be arranged, and the necessary agreements are in place to implement the service… Amtrak strongly supports these projects and will continue to do everything we can to work with you to bring these services to completion. I am committed along with the rest of the Amtrak team to working with the Commission and the Gulf Coast states to obtain the necessary commitments from the host railroads to determine the capital and operating needs of each service, in order to advance all of these important projects.” 

Governor John Bel Edwards voiced support of the SRC’s work and noted that during the 2015 election, all Gubernatorial candidates were in favor of a Baton Rouge to New Orleans rail. He stated the need for a regional approach to economic competitiveness for workers commuting between jobs along the river, as well as access to sports arenas in both cities, and service to the new airport terminal in New Orleans.

Governor Edwards is currently working to stabilize the state budget, and hopes in the future to strategically invest in infrastructure and opportunities to advance passenger rail service throughout the state. In his recent meeting with federal Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Edwards reported that rail is a major component of the President’s infrastructure push.

The letter was presented to Governor Edwards at the meeting by Mark Murphy, Amtrak Vice President, Long Distance Services Business Development. The Amtrak letter includes references to the Gulf Coast service in addition to longer-term SRC goals for new routes from Baton Rouge to New Orleans and across Central Mississippi and Northern Louisiana through Eastern Texas.

For full text of Amtrak's letter of support click HERE.

Market Street, rail service among topics in Pascagoula mayor's State of the City address

PASCAGOULA, Miss. - Mayor Jim Blevins addressed a variety of opportunities and challenges in his annual State of the City address on Tuesday, including the difficulty of improving Market Street and his high hopes for the return of Amtrak service.

Blevins covered a range of topics in his address at the Grand Magnolia Ballroom.

Blevins points of emphasis included continued growth of the community and the passing of the prepared food tax increase, which will fund improvement to recreation facilities. Because of the passage of the referendum, revenue generated is expected to be between $775,000 and $1 million annually.

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Mayors Office: Passenger Rail Service Closer

Mobile, Ala.— January 11, 2017—The City of Mobile has received a  $125,000 grant to design a new passenger rail station in Downtown Mobile from the Southern Rail Commission    The grant will allow for the architectural design and for a Master plan to be developed.

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

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Funds put train station upgrades on track in 3 states

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) - Some of Alabama’s largest cities are getting federal help for projects that involve upgrading their train stations or developing new ones.

Birmingham, Mobile, Anniston and Tuscaloosa are each getting a share of $728,957 in grants for Alabama, Al.com reported (http://bit.ly/2hZbfKf ).

Also receiving grants are Baton Rouge, Gonzales and St. John Parish in Louisiana, and Biloxi, Gulfport and Pascagoula in Mississippi.

The money had been earmarked years ago, and officials with the Southern Rail Commission recently doled it out to the four cities, the news site reported.

All told, the three states are getting $2.5 million in federal money for train station-related projects.

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