Intercity national passenger rail provider Amtrak has proposed a new route called the Gulf Coast that will run twice daily between New Orleans, Louisiana and Mobile, Alabama. It will run along the route the Sunset Limited formerly used before service on the New Orleans to Orlando segment was discontinued following a bridge collapse in 2005. The proposed Gulf Coast Daily will operate on tracks owned by freight railroads Norfolk Southern and CSX.
Amtrak’s previous president, Richard Anderson, 2017-2020, had set out to remake the troubled national rail network arguing that Amtrak should focus on regional routes by connecting mid and large cities that are within 250 miles of each other and reduce long distance train service which have long been unprofitable. Current Amtrak President Stephen Gardner appears to be following the model as well.
While no agreement has been made yet, and talks have gone on for over a year, the Gulf Coast route would start in New Orleans, and continue with stops in Bay St Louis, Gulfport, Biloxi and Pascagoula before terminating in Mobile. The service would have one engine and 4 cars, with one being business class, one cafe car and two coach cars.
In public statements, both CSX and Norfolk Southern have supported the study but did not indicate if they supported Amtrak’s new proposed route.
Under federal law, all railroads affected, in this case Amtrak, CSX and Norfolk Southern, are required to jointly conduct a feasibility study to determine the impact new passenger rail service would have on freight service. Amtrak and CSX have stated they are using Berkeley Simulation Software’s Rail Traffic Controller modeling program.
New Amtrak service stands to enable the Gulf Coast region to become more interdependent and increase the region’s GDP by allowing area residents and tourist alike to easily transit across the region visiting businesses and popular tourist areas along the Gulf Coast of the United States. Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama conducted a study in 2017 under a cooperative program called the Souther Rail Commission (SRC), which found that the region has enough demand for this route and that it would help the region economically.
“Well right now those freight railroads are standing in the way, they don’t want new Amtrak service even though the tracks have plenty of capacity for this new service. Almost everyone I know wants this new service, I mean I can hope on a train and go over to New Orleans for the day and not have to drive, I-10 is just horrible” says Sadie Hamilton of Gulf Port, MS.
Jean Childress, an public policy expert at Loyola says, “That’s exactly why the region needs new service, too many people will just stay home and not visit other areas, not spend their money and just that amount of economic slump keeps there area from growing in a meaningful way.”