Southern Groups Continue to Seek New Service

Work to launch Amtrak service between Atlanta and Fort Worth, Texas, is continuing, but passenger train advocates said it is taking a back seat to the long-stalled efforts to restore service to the Gulf Coast between New Orleans and Jacksonville, Florida.

 “The Gulf Coast is first in line — it gets priority,” said Transportation for American Chairman and former Meridian (Mississippi) Mayor John Robert Smith. “ . . . There’s a finite amount of money that you can compete for.”

Smith said it will take about two years to get service restored between New Orleans and Mobile, Alabama.

That also assumes that federal matching funds will be available to help pay for the $23 million cost.

“It’s not like it will take two years to do the work — we’re talking about negotiations,” Smith said. “You could run trains there in six months.”

Smith expects the service between Meridian and Marshall, Texas, route will follow after the Gulf Coast restoration. Amtrak’s Texas Eagle uses the tracks between Marshall and Fort Worth.

The Texas-based I-20 Corridor Council is working with state and federal officials and Amtrak to restore passenger rail service from Meridian to Marshall with the idea of ultimately connecting Atlanta and Dallas.

Intercity rail passenger service along that route ended more than 50 years ago.

“The concept is to have all three states pushing for this passenger rail service,” said Richard Anderson, chairman of the I-20 Corridor Council. “It would benefit all three states — it would benefit the entire south.”

Smith believes the Millennial Generation will ultimately be responsible for the resurgence of passenger trains, even in the South.

“They aren’t as married to the automobile as my generation was,” Smith said, adding that Millennials and Baby Boomers are the two largest generations in American history. “Those two huge generations drive marketing advertising and many of the choices we make in this country.”

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