December 20, 2016 – –

The Federal Railroad Administration has allocated about $2.5 million for 11 passenger rail stations on potential routes east and west of New Orleans. The move brings New Orleans one step closer to passenger train service to Mobile, Ala., and Baton Rouge.

Baton Rouge, Gonzales and LaPlace will split $375,000 to start planning for passenger rail stops on a future commuter line between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. Local governments have put up additional money for station design and development.

The rest of the money will go to four cities on the Mississippi Gulf Coast — Biloxi, Bay St. Louis, Gulfport and Pascagoula — and the Alabama cities of Anniston, Tuscaloosa, Birmingham and Mobile to develop and restore their train stations. This could move New Orleans closer to having full passenger rail service to Orlando,. Fla.

Governor-Elect Jon Bell Edwards and Louisiana transportation Secretary Shawn Wilson requested $100 million to do some work on Interstate 10 between Baton Rouge and Lafayette. If they get the federal funding, it would free state money allocated for the project to be used for other things.

The timeline for New Orleans-Baton Rouge service, long a topic of government planning, is unclear; it likely will be several years. A commuter train line has not existed between the two cities previously, and a source of local public funding to support the project must be identified before it can move forward.

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Editor’s note: Amtrak abandoned service between New Orleans and Jacksonville, Florida after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in 2005, terminating the transcontinental Sunset Limited at New Orleans. To date, there is no direct train connection between the west coast and Florida, orphaning Texas travelers caught in the middle that want to travel eastward.