More Delays for Restoring Gulf Coast Amtrak Service

Conflicts over freight rail and funding are holding up the restoration of New Orleans-to-Orlando service on Amtrak’s Sunset Limited line.

2 minute read

October 30, 2022, 7:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Amtrak Sunset Limited train passing by forested area in Cade, Louisiana

The Sunset Limited in Cade, Louisiana | Leo W. Persick Jr. / Sunset Limited

The deadline for mediation in a case before the Surface Transportation Board (STB) that could restore Amtrak service between New Orleans and Mobile, Alabama “quietly elapsed,” further delaying the potential restoration of service on a line that once used to run from Los Angeles to Orlando. Since Hurricane Katrina damaged critical infrastructure in 2005, the Sunset Limited’s service now ends at New Orleans, explains Jared Brey on Governing.

“The Southern Rail Commission also envisions restoring passenger service between Birmingham and Mobile, Ala., and splitting service on Amtrak’s Crescent train to provide a western link through central Mississippi — ultimately linking towns in Mississippi and Louisiana to the Atlanta and Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan areas.”

Conflicts between passenger and freight rail operators are not uncommon. “In the case of the Gulf Coast service, it’s a question of money,” Brey writes, noting that the $66 million promised by Amtrak falls short of the $440 million CSX says it needs to make the necessary improvements.

Knox Ross, secretary and treasurer for the Southern Rail Commission, said “There shouldn’t be an expectation that the company would make a profit on the service — just as there’s no expectation that highways should turn a profit — but Ross says he expects the trains would be well-used.” Supporters of restored service also say the connection to New Orleans could help funnel tourists to coastal Mississippi and Alabama towns.

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