Back on track: Amtrak proceeds in restoring Gulf Coast service

New Orleans to Mobile soon, Baton Rouge next

Don Ames
June 12, 2019 - 7:15 am
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All aboard! Gulf Coast rail service between New Orleans and Mobile is about to leave the station

That highly anticipated service is now much closer to being a done deal, with some help from the federal government.  

"Congress has now put up over 30 million dollars. That'll be matched by almost an equal amount, so I think the total is around 59 million dollars that'll be used on rail upgrades and infrastructure between New Orleans and Mobile," says John Spain, Chairman of the Southern Rail Commission.

The money from the Federal Railroad Administration is to be matched by funds from Louisiana, Mississippi, and Amtrak. Alabama's deadline for matching funds is today. And, Spain says, once that's done the trains will return to the coast within 24 months.

It'll take that time to make infrastructure, safety and capacity improvements along the line, which hasn't operated since Hurricane Katrina. Contractors will have to be hired to make those upgrades and new Sidings need to be built to accommodate both passenger and freight trains, which travel at different speeds. 

"Basically what would happen is, a train would leave Mobile and a train would leave New Orleans each day and morning and then return each night. So, those are four trips daily." 

"And, unlike the previous service that ran around midnight or so, these trains would be running, hopefully, in the morning and in the afternoon," Spain says.."So people that work in one of the other cities could use the train instead of their cars."
 
And, he says the revived service won't be anything like the old Sunset Limited that stopped when Katrina wrecked the rail line in 2005. In fact, he says the new passenger service will be a first-of-its kind for the Gulf Coast.

"This would be a modern train. It would have wifi, as well as food and beverage. So, instead of driving, you could take the train for a reasonable fee, and get some work done while you're actually riding."

Also, said Spain, the new train will be expected to run on time.

He say tickets for  the daily trips between New Orleans and Mobile will likely be priced in the $25 to $30 range each way.

Spain says the SRC has other plans in the works, as well.

 "Frankly, I think once we get this one done, we can than continue our conversations about an inter-city train between Baton Rouge and New Orleans."

The fate of the Amtrak restart will rely upon its negotiations with CSX, which owns the tracks between New Orleans and Mobile. But, Amtrak says it’s committed to working with the SRC, CSX and the states in getting the service restarted within the desired time frame.​

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