Amtrak's Moorman supports Gulf Coast rail service

RELATED TOPICS: SOUTH | PASSENGER | AMTRAK | PEOPLE
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The control tower of New Orleans Airport is visible in front of City of New Orleans’ locomotive on a corridor that would extend service to Baton Rouge, La.
Bob Johnston
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A Gulf Coast inspection train stops at the site of the former Mobile, Ala., station on Feb 18, 2016.
Bob Johnston
BATON ROUGE, La. — Amtrak CEO Wick Moorman has come out in support of returning passenger train service to the U.S. Gulf Coast east of New Orleans.

Moorman wrote of his support in a letter to a quarterly meeting of the Southern Rail Commission on March 3. He writes commission members about Amtrak's “firm commitment to the Gulf Coast project, and our interest and support for other projects that are underway in (the) region.”

The Southern Rail Commission is a Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama-based organization whose politically-connected members are leading a federally-authorized Gulf Coast Working Group to come up with a plan that would restart service on the Sunset Limited’s former route east of New Orleans. A preliminary report recommends extending the City of New Orleans to Orlando, Fla., and implementing a second round-trip between Alabama and the Crescent City.

Although the Gulf Coast Working Group has yet to release a final report outlining exactly what capital investment CSX Transportation requests for improvements to restart passenger service cut-off by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, both proposed passenger services would operate daily over a mostly single-track CSX line which received some upgrades when the Sunset was extended east in 1993.

The Working Group, comprised of Amtrak, CSX, the Federal Railroad Administration, and Southern Rail Commission representatives, has been meeting regularly for more than a year to quantify costs and benefits that would justify the additional investment required to create additional passenger train capacity.

“We are committed to operating both the long-distance and corridor services on the Gulf Coast route as soon as the necessary funding can be arranged, and the necessary agreements are in place to implement the service,” Moorman writes.

He also says Amtrak “strongly supports” the Southern Rail Commission’s efforts to launch a Baton Rouge-New Orleans corridor with a stop along the way at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport and extension of a section of the New York-New Orleans Crescent west from Meridian, Miss., to Fort Worth, Texas, pledging to, “obtain the necessary commitments from host railroads to determine the capital and operating needs of each service in order to advance all of these important projects.”

Those host railroads would be Kansas City Southern and Union Pacific

Extending a section of the Crescent to Texas through Jackson, Miss., and Shreveport, La., over Kansas City Southern’s “Meridian Speedway” had been proposed in the late 1990s as part of Amtrak’s mail and express-driven network growth strategy, but the company’s deteriorating financial position derailed the initiative. Nevertheless, sources tell Trains News Wire that Amtrak has recently “run the numbers” for ridership and revenue on the plan and results look favorable.

However, all-new service launches on Southern Rail Commission’s wish list would also require reallocation of scarce Amtrak equipment. It is a situation by delivery delays of passenger cars now being built at CAF USA’s Elmira, N.Y., factory and non-existent Nippon Sharyo production of bilevels destined for California and Midwest states which would have freed up leased Superliner, Horizon, and Amfleet coaches.
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