January 27, 2016 - TRA

For the first time in over ten years an Amtrak train will once again run between New Orleans and Florida but don't get ready to buy a ticket quite yet. The former line dubbed the Sunset Limited route was abruptly dumped by Amtrak executives after Hurricane Katrina tore through the Gulf Coast in 2005. Amtrak is planning to run a test train with stops at all previous stations along the coast February 18-19 at the urging of towns, cities and states involved that want service restored.

Tracks owned by CSX Railroad were back in shape within months of Katrina's vicious blow along the Gulf but Amtrak management did not want to buck any strong political winds, according to some wags, and truncated the Sunset in New Orleans. That left Alabama, Mississippi and Florida towns without any passenger rail service and cut off the only transcontinental rail link from Los Angeles to Miami. Ridership went down and today the Sunset still carries the least amount of passengers of any national network train. Amtrak's self-inflicted draw down meant that many Texans who would ride to Florida by train were immediately cut off from any Southern service along the Gulf of Mexico.

The Sunset Limited had been the anemic perennial poster child for a train that loses money but to put it in perspective, but what do you expect when you only run a train three days a week? What is needed is a minimum daily service in each direction with additional daily services between the major cities, such as San Antonio to Houston, Houston to New Orleans, and New Orleans to Mobile. Increasing the frequency would draw more riders and that would equate to a more robust farebox recovery (that's rail lingo for dollars in the till).   If you only ran a flight between two cities three times a week would you expect any better result? Not at all. And, yes, the U.S. does subsidize air travel.

Amtrak execs backed off from a daily service proposal several years ago citing that the cost was too high but did not even try to negotiate with the freight railroads whose tracks they use.

But this is 2016 and hope reins supreme. The test train will stop in Mississippi, Alabama and the panhandle of Florida before it heads south to Orlando, the company announced this week. Amtrak executives and elected officials are expected to be on board. The company said "the goal of the invitation-only trip is to examine the existing CSX railroad infrastructure and to better understand rail’s economic, cultural and mobility opportunities."

“We want to work with community leaders and CSX," Amtrak CEO Joe Boardman said in a statement. “Additional regional economic development can come from shared infrastructure investments on a timeline to better connect the region to the rest of the country and more than 500 other Amtrak destinations.”

A study showed restoring the rail service between Louisiana and Central Florida would attract between 138,300 and 153,900 passengers annually at a cost of $5.48 million. Adding additional service between New Orleans and Mobile raises the total to $9.49 million a year. The study, conducted by Amtrak for the Southern Rail Commission, allows Amtrak to contract with local governments to provide service in corridors of 750 miles or less.

The report states that "The Gulf Coast region is home to numerous regional, national and global tourist destinations and events, including New Orleans’ Mardi Gras, the theme parks of central Florida, Gulf Coast beaches and casino gaming/resorts. Major league sports teams, NCAA bowl games, three cruise terminals with weekly mass-market cruise ship departures and convention opportunities also draw visitors to communities in the region, while military bases and major defense contractor facilities bring business and military travelers," according to the feasibility report. "Reintroduction of rail passenger service to this market presents numerous marketing opportunities and Amtrak has the marketing capability to assist in promoting any service which is implemented."

The National Association of Railroad Passengers has been a key player in rallying local and state support to restore service.  Rail service needs to come back on a daily basis along the coast and northern Florida. TRA supports this project.

 

 
January 27, 2016 - TRA

For the first time in over ten years an Amtrak train will once again run between New Orleans and Florida but don't get ready to buy a ticket quite yet. The former line dubbed the Sunset Limited route was abruptly dumped by Amtrak executives after Hurricane Katrina tore through the Gulf Coast in 2005. Amtrak is planning to run a test train with stops at all previous stations along the coast February 18-19 at the urging of towns, cities and states involved that want service restored.

Tracks owned by CSX Railroad were back in shape within months of Katrina's vicious blow along the Gulf but Amtrak management did not want to buck any strong political winds, according to some wags, and truncated the Sunset in New Orleans. That left Alabama, Mississippi and Florida towns without any passenger rail service and cut off the only transcontinental rail link from Los Angeles to Miami. Ridership went down and today the Sunset still carries the least amount of passengers of any national network train. Amtrak's self-inflicted draw down meant that many Texans who would ride to Florida by train were immediately cut off from any Southern service along the Gulf of Mexico.

The Sunset Limited had been the anemic perennial poster child for a train that loses money but to put it in perspective, but what do you expect when you only run a train three days a week? What is needed is a minimum daily service in each direction with additional daily services between the major cities, such as San Antonio to Houston, Houston to New Orleans, and New Orleans to Mobile. Increasing the frequency would draw more riders and that would equate to a more robust farebox recovery (that's rail lingo for dollars in the till).   If you only ran a flight between two cities three times a week would you expect any better result? Not at all. And, yes, the U.S. does subsidize air travel.

Amtrak execs backed off from a daily service proposal several years ago citing that the cost was too high but did not even try to negotiate with the freight railroads whose tracks they use.

But this is 2016 and hope reins supreme. The test train will stop in Mississippi, Alabama and the panhandle of Florida before it heads south to Orlando, the company announced this week. Amtrak executives and elected officials are expected to be on board. The company said "the goal of the invitation-only trip is to examine the existing CSX railroad infrastructure and to better understand rail’s economic, cultural and mobility opportunities."

“We want to work with community leaders and CSX," Amtrak CEO Joe Boardman said in a statement. “Additional regional economic development can come from shared infrastructure investments on a timeline to better connect the region to the rest of the country and more than 500 other Amtrak destinations.”

A study showed restoring the rail service between Louisiana and Central Florida would attract between 138,300 and 153,900 passengers annually at a cost of $5.48 million. Adding additional service between New Orleans and Mobile raises the total to $9.49 million a year. The study, conducted by Amtrak for the Southern Rail Commission, allows Amtrak to contract with local governments to provide service in corridors of 750 miles or less.

The report states that "The Gulf Coast region is home to numerous regional, national and global tourist destinations and events, including New Orleans’ Mardi Gras, the theme parks of central Florida, Gulf Coast beaches and casino gaming/resorts. Major league sports teams, NCAA bowl games, three cruise terminals with weekly mass-market cruise ship departures and convention opportunities also draw visitors to communities in the region, while military bases and major defense contractor facilities bring business and military travelers," according to the feasibility report. "Reintroduction of rail passenger service to this market presents numerous marketing opportunities and Amtrak has the marketing capability to assist in promoting any service which is implemented."

The National Association of Railroad Passengers has been a key player in rallying local and state support to restore service.  Rail service needs to come back on a daily basis along the coast and northern Florida. TRA supports this project.