Ride the Rails from Louisiana to the Beach – Update
It's been a few months since Amtrak, the passenger train service in the United States announced that they were in the process of making test runs between New Orleans, Louisiana and Mobile, Alabama. The tests were being conducted to familiarize on board staff, station crews, and the general public with what appears to be the impending return of passenger rail service that would once again connect Louisiana to many popular destinations along the coasts of Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida.
Passenger rail service along the northern Gulf Coast has been on hiatus ever since Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The storm damaged a lot of infrastructure and since then the only trains that have been running the coastal route are freight trains.
However, this past December an agreement was reached between Amtrak, CSX Transportation, Norfolk Southern Railway Company and the Port of Mobile reached a deal that allows freight and passenger trains to share the tracks on the Gulf Coast corridor. That agreement literally set wheels in motion for the return of passenger rail.
Over the past few months rail stations across the Mississippi Gulf Coast have been refurbishing their facilities in preparation for the return people. Many of the stations have been practically shuttered since 2005 and although some of the refurbishments are temporary this too signifies that the return daily stops with passengers embarking and disembarking will happen sooner than later.
The sticking point in the project appears to be money. That's not a shock. It will require a lot of money to bring the physical infrastructure up to speed to satisfy the needs of twice daily rail service between New Orleans and Mobile.
The good news is the money is available in the form of federal grants. It just has not been approved. These $200 million dollars in grants will help to pay for track upgrades, station upgrades, and upgrading and updating the crossings where the higher speed Amtrak trains will cross roadways.
One official close to the rebirth of passenger rail project suggested that the rail service could begin before the upgrades are finalized but the project won't be going anywhere until the federal money comes through. Another official said that time was of the essence to get the project rolling before the end of the year. That's because Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards, a strong supporter of passenger rail in Louisiana will be leaving office at the end of his current term. It's unclear if Louisiana's new Governor will have the same passion for the project.
Incidentally the stops that Amtrak has planned between New Orleans and Mobile include Bay St Louis, Gulfport, Biloxi, and Pascagoula. Those communities are already moving forward with the upgrade of potential passenger services at their stations. Amtrak officials speculate that the trip will take three hours and twenty-three minutes to complete.
Amtrak officials are still very optimistic that service between NOLA and Mobile will begin before the end of 2023. And most close to the project agree that it's a matter of "when" and not "if". But that's not the only passenger rail project that could enhance life in Louisiana.
A project that would be of a lot of interest in South Louisiana is rail service between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. There have been some developments in this project but as of now no construction timetable has been announced. But there does appear to be an agreement shaping up that would allow passenger trains to run on tracks currently monopolized by freight trains between Baton Rouge and New Orleans.
Most close to that project say it will be at least another six months to a year before paperwork, agreements, state and federal permissions, and a lot of other red tape is cleared out of the way so the focus on the actual rail service can begin.
And while we're talking trains, there is another project in the works along the I-20 corridor. That project would connect passenger service from Meridian Mississippi through several stations in North Louisiana to a hub in Dallas Texas. From what we understand federal funding for this project has been applied for as well.
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