Rail Commission optimistic about service restoration despite Trump’s budget proposal

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 24, 2017

The fate of a proposal to restore passenger rail service along the Gulf Coast could lie in the hands of Congress after President Donald Trump’s proposed budget — America First – would cut off 23 of 46 states – including Alabama, from the company’s long distance routes.

The president’s proposed budget calls for an overall 12.7 percent reduction in the U.S. Department of Transportation’s budget.

Southern Rail Commission Chairman Greg White said that if the president’s budget is taken at face value it would have a detrimental effect on their project and rail service across the country.

However, White maintains that there is support for passenger rail in Congress.

“There is a lot of support in Congress for our project, specifically, and other long-distance services,” he said. “If you took this approach to transportation, you could never resurface a county road in rural South Alabama because there isn’t enough traffic. The rail service is somewhat of a similar approach.”

White said cutting out rail service would hurt the northeast corridor as well.

“It is fed by New Orleans and other places,” he said. “But I feel extremely positive about our project.”

The Southern Rail Commission’s project calls for restarting the passenger rail service from New Orleans to Orlando along CSX freight rail lines. The Gulf Coast hasn’t had passenger rail service since Hurricane Katrina made landfall in 2005.

Since 2015, a group known as the Gulf Coast Working Group, has been looking at the logistics of restarting that service.

The Southern Rail Commission expects to have its final report ready to hand off to the Federal Railroad Administration within a month or month and a half.

The group completed an Amtrak feasibility study in 2015 that estimated that the needed operating assistance for the New Orleans to Orlando route would be some $5.48 million and that adding a route from New Orleans to Mobile would need an additional $4 million each year.

Under Trump’s budget only the New Orleans to Mobile line, which would be supported by state governments, would be attainable. White did say that these are simply proposals and there is more discussion to be had.

While White remains optimistic, the National Association of Railroad Passengers criticized the proposed cuts to the budget.

“While infrastructure investment has been a major theme of President Trump’s campaign and first 100 days, his administration’s first budget guts infrastructure spending and slashing $2.4 billion from transportation. This will jeopardize mobility for millions of Americans and endanger tens of thousands of American jobs.”