FRA Grants Raise Hopes that New Rail Service is Getting Closer to Coming to Fruition

The allocation this week by the Federal Railroad Administration of $2.5 million for stations improvements has officials in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi hopeful that intercity rail passenger service between New Orleans and Florida, and New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is closer to getting launched.

FRAThe service to Baton Rouge is seen as commuter service, but the service east of the Crescent City would be a restoration of an Amtrak route lost when Hurricane Katrina struck in August 2005.

Until then, Amtrak’s Sunset Limited operated between Los Angeles and Orlando, Florida, via New Orleans, Mobile, Alabama, and Tallahassee and Jacksonville, Florida.

Three cities, Baton Rouge, Gonzales and LaPlace, will split $350,000 to begin planning for passengers stations on the proposed commuter train route.

The rest of the money will be allocated to cities in Mississippi (Biloxi, Bay St. Louis, Gulfport and Pascagoula) and Mobile for station development.

Some of the grant money is being distributed to the Alabama cities of Birmingham, Tuscaloosa and Anniston for station work on the New York-New Orleans Crescent route.

Officials say it will be several years before the New Orleans-Baton Rouge service could start. Funding for the service has yet to be secured.

A study conducted in 2015 estimated the service would cost $6.7 million a year based on annual ridership of 210,000 paying a one-way fare of $10 per trip.

Restoring Amtrak service to the Gulf Coast could happen in 18 to 24 months said John Spain, a Louisiana representatives on the Southern Rail Commission.

Amtrak extended the Sunset Limited to Florida in 1993, operating tri-weekly. State-funded service to portions of the Gulf Coast from New Orleans have come and gone over the years.

The SRC noted in a 2015 report that the Sunset Limited was plagued by poor timekeeping due, in part, to freight train congestion.

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