March 10, 2023 - TRA Newswire - 

Amtrak will be lead agency applying for federal authorization to link Dallas-Fort Worth with passenger rail service through East Texas, northern Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi to Atlanta and East coast markets previously not reachable by train for decades.

The announcement about the I-20 Corridor was made by Nicole Bucich, Vice President of Network development for Amtrak, speaking at the Friday quarterly meeting of the Southern Rail Commission in New Orleans.

Amtrak, with the backing of the Southern Rail Commission, local, state and federal supporters, will submit a Federal-State Partnership grant application to the Federal Railroad Administration before a looming April deadline. If approved by the FRA, the first step will be for project planning, according to Bucich. 

"This is a new service that we feel strongly about," according to Bucich. "we are glad to partner with the Southern Rail Commission and others to advance this project. This partnership will be the catalyst for change. With the encouragement and support of federal, state and local officials, this application is the first step in determining the feasibility of this concept and the benefits and challenges."

The application will culminate years of work from the I-20 Corridor Council, the East Texas organization that was instrumental in laying the groundwork for the project. Judge RIchard Anderson and Christina Anderson of Marshall, Texas trailblazed the way with a coalition of local and regional appointed and elected officials along with Chambers of Commerce and business leaders.

The train from Dallas-Fort Worth would be an extension of the current Amtrak Crescent overnight service between New Orleans and New York. Train cars from the western extension would would join or split at the Meridian, Mississippi station. 

Knox Ross, Chairman of the Southern Rail Commission, said "this is a sea change for Amtrak. People have been working on these projects as far back as 1990 and we now have momentum and the incentive to move this forward. " Ross recognized U.S. Senators Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) as being instrumental in their help on this project. Northern Louisiana mayors, present at the commission meeting, echoed their support for train service. 

Canadian Pacific Railroad, is now before the Surface Transportation Board awaiting a decision to acquire Kansas City Southern Railway. CP has indicated it could accommodate passenger train service between Shreveport and a junction at Meridian, Mississippi, where Amtrak currently has service. Amtrak has an agreement in place with CP to conduct a study following STB approval of the merger. 

John Robert Smith, who heads DC-based Transportation for America (T4A), told the commission meeting that Canadian Pacific has indicated that the railroad could run "one round-trip a day once the merger is cleared with a potential of two round-trips a day after about four years." 

Smith said that all this has occured because of a sea change at the Federal Railroad Administration. "The FRA has become changemakers, not caretakers of railroads. to make the difference. This is a once in a generation change if you ever wanted to see passenger rail," according to Smith. 

Chairman Ross added "this has the potential to be the first new Amtrak service of its kind in more than 25 years and it would come in an area that has long been underserved by passenger rail. Now that we have a way forward for new state-sponsored corridor service between New Orleans and Mobile, the I-20 route has been identified by the SRC as its next priority," said Ross.

In a statement issued today, DC-based Rail Passengers Association President/CEO Jim Mathews said "Congress’ message in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law was crystal clear: we don’t need to abandon rural and low-population communities to economic stagnation, disconnected from the rest of the country. As a great Nation, we have enough wealth to connect all lower 48 states to a functional passenger rail network that returns many multiples of economic benefit to the communities it serves."

In other developments, Amtrak is currently running familiarization trips for the anticipated return of passenger rail service between New Orleans and Mobile. the SRC announced they are in discussions with Amtrak to name the service and expect to share the final decision in the near future. 

Meanwhile, representatives from the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development discussed federal funds the state is pursuing to advance the Baton Rouge to New Orleans Passenger Rail project. LADOTD has submitted a grant application for the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) Program to support the replacement of the wooden Bonnet Carre bridge outside of New Orleans. The bridge currently restricts rail traffic to 10 miles per hour.