New transportation bill requires Gulf Coast passenger review

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WASHINGTON — Advocates waiting to see passenger rail service restored to the U.S. Gulf Coast will have to wait nine more months to see what a newly mandated working group says is possible.

Congress approved and President Barack Obama signed “Fixing America’s Surface Transportation” or the FAST Act last week that mandates such a review among its hundreds of pages. Specifically, the law requires a working group to convene over the next 90-days to evaluate the restoration of intercity rail passenger service between New Orleans and Orlando. Lawmakers gave $500,000 over the next two fiscal years will help fund the initiative.

The group will consist of representatives of the Federal Railroad Administration, Amtrak, state and local leaders, transportation planning organizations, the Southern Rail Commission and any freight railroads whose tracks may be used to host the service.

The working group will evaluate all options for restoring intercity rail passenger service in the Gulf Coast region, including preferred options for restoring service, costs analysis of capital projects, federal and non-federal funding sources and the opportunity to enter into public-private partnerships.

The National Association of Railroad Passenger says this is an important aspect of the bill.

“Ten years on from Hurricane Katrina, the Gulf Coast rail corridor is still the big missing link in the national rail network,” NARP says in a blog post. “…this working group will give the states and communities along the Gulf Coast much needed help in getting this train running again.”

Amtrak’s Sunset Limited had operated between New Orleans and Orlando until 2005, when Hurricane Katrina destroyed rail infrastructure in Louisiana and Mississippi. Since then, the transcontinental train has operated only between New Orleans and Los Angeles.

The Secretary of Transportation’s office will convene a working group. The bill requires a report to be submitted no later than nine months after the enactment of the bill outlining its findings.
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