November 28, 2022

Passenger rail service is closer than ever to being restored between New Orleans and Mobile, Alabama, thanks to an agreement that allows Amtrak to run on the railroad companies’ tracks that connect the two cities.

Amtrak, CSX Transportation, Norfolk Southern and the Port Authority of Alabama told the U.S. Surface Transportation Board on Monday that an agreement has been reached to support passenger and freight service on the same tracks in the Gulf Coast Corridor, according to the U.S. Railroad Commission South. CSX, the port and some industry representatives have expressed concern that passenger service could threaten the economies of Alabama and Mississippi.







Amtrak

Amtrak wants to restore passenger rail service along the Gulf Coast between New Orleans and Mobile, Alabama.




Knox Ross, chairman of the Southern Railroad Commission, said the settlement points to a bright future for passenger rail service along the Gulf Coast and elsewhere in the South.

“I am incredibly excited about this settlement agreement and we will continue to build on this momentum by working with all stakeholders – especially communities. [that] we’ve waited so long for passenger rail to get ready to begin service,” Ross said Tuesday.

The northern Gulf Coast has been without passenger rail service since Hurricane Katrina damaged tracks and equipment in 2005. While Louisiana and Mississippi have long supported restoration, the effort has faced a number of obstacles.

First there was a lack of money, solved in part by the 2019 announcement of a $4.7 million federal grant to cover initial operating expenses on the New Orleans-Mobile route.







Amtrak

An Amtrak train pulls into the train station in Slidell.




Then in 2021, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said she would oppose a plan to restore service without a study of its potential effects on the Port of Mobile’s freight service.

More recently, Amtrak has been locked in federal mediation with freight operator CSX and the Port of Mobile to balance Amtrak’s needs for two daily round trips with the demands of the freight industry during the supply chain crisis.

Monday’s award filing could put an end to all that, according to the Southern Railway Commission, but its contents have not been made public. The negotiating parties have requested that the case be stayed while the terms of the settlement are enforced, and the Southern Rail Commission said the parties were not yet in a position to provide further comment.

Jim Mathews, president and CEO of the Rail Passenger Association, said he was looking forward to more information.







Amtrak train in Mobile

The Excelsior Band sings as residents of Mobile, Alabama welcome the Amtrak inspection train on a trip from New Orleans to Florida on February 18, 2016.




“Of course, we will have to see the final details of the deal before we can fully comment on its merits,” Mathews said. “Furthermore, rail passengers hope that the terms of the agreement can provide a guide for the timely addition of passenger rail service on the new corridors.

“If we want the US passenger rail network to catch up with our global competitors, we cannot ask states, cities and citizens to invest 17 years to launch a new service.”

Amtrak’s current service to New Orleans consists of three lines:

  • The Sunset Limited in Houston, San Antonio and Los Angeles
  • New Orleans City to Jackson, Mississippi; Memphis, Tennessee; and Chicago
  • The Crescent in Birmingham, Alabama; Atlanta; Charlotte, North Carolina; Washington DC; Philadelphia; and New York City.

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