Passenger rail commission barnstorms the Gulf Coast this week

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The Gulf Coast Inspection Train pauses at the site of the former Mobile, Ala., station on Feb. 18, 2016.
Bob Johnston
NEW ORLEANS — Southern Rail Commission members are on the road this week in an information and publicity tour to get U.S. Gulf Coast communities excited and involved about a possible return of passenger rail service to their region.

Specifically, the commission members are updating Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana communities on the next steps to become involved in efforts that would extend the daily City of New Orleans beyond the Crescent City to Orlando, Fla. Plans also include adding a daily round trip from New Orleans to either Mobile, Ala., or Atmore, Ala.

During the past year, commission members have helped prepare a Gulf Coast Working Group study to Congress in conjunction with Amtrak, CSX Transportation, and the Federal Railroad Administration.

Expected to be finalized over the next month, the report will reveal what capital improvements and operating support will be needed to restore passenger service along the route east of New Orleans that hosted the tri-weekly Sunset Limited’s Orlando extension before it was “suspended” by Amtrak after Hurricane Katrina in August 2005.

The initiative has received support from Amtrak and elected officials but may face headwinds from President Donald Trump’s administration, whose preliminary budget has called for the elimination of all long-distance train funding.

Knox Ross, Southern Rail Commission’s secretary-treasurer, tells Trains News Wire that a grass roots campaign to build awareness at all levels of government will help expand the political support and secure finances necessary to initiate the service.

“We continue working with host railroads on the capital numbers and operating agreements,” Ross says.

The meetings are taking place with stakeholders at sites listed below, and “the public can follow along on the Southern Rail Commission’s feed on Twitter @SouthernRailCMS, hashtag of #yallaboard.”

Significantly, two of the Florida locations, Live Oak and Marianna, never had a Sunset Limited stop when the train was running between 1993 and 2005, but community leaders have expressed interest now.

The stops this week include:

Tuesday, April 11
•Jacksonville, Fla: 9:30 a.m., 980 N. Jefferson St.
•Live Oak, Fla. 1:30 p.m., 208 N. Ohio Ave.

Wednesday, April 12
•Marianna, Fla., 10 a.m. 2875 Caledonia St.
•Mobile, Ala., 4 p.m., 205 Government St.

Thursday, April 13
•Gulfport, Miss. 10 a.m., 2309 15th St., City Hall
•New Orleans, La., 2:30 p.m. 10 Veterans Blvd.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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