Amtrak Files STB Petition to Restore Passenger Service to Gulf Coast

Photo credit Robert Kaufmann/FEMA

Proponents of public transportation, and particularly rail transit, have been advocating for the return of Amtrak’s Gulf Coast Rail for quite some time. Earlier this year, Amtrak announced that they’re finally ready and that passenger rail service connecting New Orleans to Mobile, AL could return as soon as early 2022.

Earlier this month, Amtrak initiated a process before the U.S. Surface Transportation Board (STB) to require freight operators CSX Transportation (CSX) and Norfolk Southern Railway (NS) to allow the daily operation of two Amtrak trains between New Orleans and Mobile, AL beginning Jan. 1, 2022.

“Amtrak has a right to use these railroads’ tracks but, unfortunately, we have been unable to reach agreement after years of effort just to operate two short and quick round trip Amtrak trains,” said Amtrak Executive Vice President for Planning and Asset Development Dennis Newman. “It’s time for the STB to step in to protect Amtrak’s rights to use freight railroad tracks to support service across America. The Southern Rail Commission and other state or regional groups look to partner with Amtrak to deliver safe, reliable and relevant service and while we often reach agreements and co-invest with freight railroads without the STB’s involvement, we need the STB to bring this protracted process to a close.”

Amtrak suspended its Gulf Coast service after Hurricane Katrina. Residents, as well as local, state, and federal officials have been requesting the return of the passenger service since CSK rebuilt the railroad in 2006. In 2019, Madi Butler, then an ambassador with the Rail Passenger Association’s Summer By Rail program visited Biloxi to advocate for reinstating the service.

“In comparison to the tangible and measurable benefits other places in the region have seen thanks to rail access, the Gulf Coast could see a resurgence in tourism and hospitality,” Butler said. “Reinstatement of [the Gulf Coast Rail Line] will benefit both the Boomers and Millenials in the area.”

On Tuesday, Mayor LaToya Cantrell joined other Gulf Coast mayors in issuing statements of support for Amtrak’s STB petition.

“Restoring passenger service between New Orleans and Mobile is a critical economic driver for our region,” Cantrell said. “I pledge to work with Amtrak and the railroads to help make the service a reality. We know that to grow, we have to think regionally, and this is a step in connecting New Orleanians with destinations along the Gulf Coast.”

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