September 9, 2023 - TRA Newswire -

The Southern Rail Commission announced at a quarterly meeting yesterday that Amtrak has reached an agreement with Canadian Pacific / Kansas City Southern (CPKC) to conduct the study for establishing passenger rail service from Dallas-Fort Worth to Meridian, Mississippi. The study and other work ahead would culminate in an extension of the existing Amtrak Crescent service from New Orleans to New York, through Meridian. 

Amtrak, in partnership with the SRC, applied for a Federal-State Partnership program grant to study passenger rail service routes connecting New York City, Atlanta, and Dallas/Fort Worth. The proposed service would extend the Amtrak Crescent train from Meridian, Mississippi, with stops across Mississippi, northern Louisiana, and east Texas to Dallas and Fort Worth.

In November 2022, the SRC, Senator Cassidy, and Monroe Mayor Friday Ellis hosted a workshop in Monroe and since then the cities of Monroe, Ruston, Vicksburg across the I-20 Corridor expressed their support for the project during the meeting.

In addition to the I-20 corridor train service, the Commission reported on new state-sponsored service planned between New Orleans and Mobile, Alabama and between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana. 

Gulf-Coast Corridor

Passenger rail service will not begin this year along the Gulf Coast from the Crescent city to Mobile as Amtrak had once hoped.  Service now is expected to begin in 2024. That start date required land use agreements with the city of Mobile for parking and operating agreements, a layover track off the main line to allow freight movement into the port area and a new platform for the station that is compliant for disabled people.

Stations are already built and ready for passengers at Pascagoula, Biloxi, Gulfport and Bay St. Louis. 

SRC Chairman Knox Ross stated, “All these plans involve partnership agreements, whether it is with Federal Railroad Administration for grants we and others have applied to receive, state departments of transportation for matching support and guidance, with our statehouses for legislation, the City of Mobile for the terminal location, with host railroads, CSX and NS, and of course, with Amtrak."

"All of these plans and partnerships are moving forward and must be in place for us to start service next year between Mobile and New Orleans," according to Ross. "When all the elements have been finalized between the parties, the schedules, fares, and even the start date and official name of the train service will come via a joint formal announcement from Amtrak and the Southern Rail Commission. Until then, we have work to do.”

Baton Rouge to New Orleans

Funding is in place and service is tentatively scheduled for mid-2025.

Gov. John Bel Edwards recently announced that his office will allocate $20.5 million in funds that became available after a settlement with HUD for repayment of Road Home program funds toward the local match requirement for federal grants the state is pursuing to fix the Bonnet Carre spillway bridge and implement the new passenger rail service.

Adam Knapp with the Baton Rouge Area Chamber said they polled people in both metros and every parish along the way. Most have been unanimously in favor of the passenger rail.  He said one of the biggest challenges is that historically, the rail operators, the companies that own the tracks have not necessarily been willing as partners to have these conversations.

Until it was acquired by Canadian Pacific earlier this year, the previous owner of the railroad, Kansas City Southern was not interested in hosting passenger trains on its tracks. The new railroad, CPKC, sees the value for communities along its lines and has been a strong partner with Amtrak in the Upper Midwest and with VIA Rail in Canada on their passenger rail services.

The Southern Rail Commission, a federally authorized entity, was created by the 97th Congress to operate as an Interstate Rail Compact. Legislatures in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama all approved the Compact. Contiguous states like Texas are allowed to become members but the Texas Transportation Commission, Texas Department of Transportation and the state legislature have shown no interest. 

Photo credit: Southern Rail Commission