Amtrak could be coming back

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 11, 2016

An Amtrak inspection train will make its way through the Gulf Coast next week.                                       Courtesy photo

An Amtrak inspection train will make its way through the Gulf Coast next week. Courtesy photo

White: Rail officials to ride inspection train next week

Southern Rail Commission Chairman Greg White told the Andalusia Lions Club Wednesday that exciting things are happening in terms of passenger rail service.

Next week, members of the commission, Amtrak officials and elected officials will take part in an inspection train that will run from Baton Rouge, La., to Jacksonville, Fla.

White, who will be on the train, said this is a culmination of years of hard work.

The Southern Rail Commission consists of six representatives and the governors from Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Its job is to enhance rail service in this part of the country.

White said the goal is to reinstate passenger rail service from New Orleans to Jacksonville and to Orlando; from New Orleans to Baton Rouge and then from Mobile to Birmingham.

He said Amtrak officials presented five options for them.

The estimated funding shortfall is some $15 million for the service from New Orleans to Baton Rogue to Orlando and then a daily service from New Orleans to Mobile.

“The experience has been that Amtrak has to have commitments for that funding,” he said. “They can’t pay for it out of their operating budget. Look to states and businesses to make up the shortfall. The casino industry would love to have the traffic from this. There’s also a possibility of turning the train to Atmore.”

The positive news, White said, is that from the experience in North Carolina, the states and local governments and businesses didn’t have to put the money up because ridership was better than projected.

White said that next week, they will inspect the lines to see what improvements need to be made to ensure the safety of the passenger trains on the line.

“There will be a theater car and officials from Amtrak, CSX and many of us will be inventorying what needs to be done to get the track up to par,” he said.

Some 150-160 people have committed to riding the inspection train on all or part of the journey.

“We will spend the night in Atmore or Pensacola,” he said.

White said the Gulf Coast has been without passenger rail service since Hurricane Katrina in August of 2005.