Baton Rouge - New Orleans Train Hits Milestone
October 27, 2023
Louisiana governor targets 2027 return for BR-NOLA passenger rail service.
Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards was joined this week by Amtrak Chief Executive Officer Stephen Gardner and other local officials to sign a service development agreement to restore intercity passenger rail service between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. The state announced its goal is to have the trains running again by the end of 2027.
“An Amtrak line connecting Louisiana’s capital to the largest metropolitan area in the state will have immense economic benefits for both cities and the parishes in between,” said Gov. Edwards at a signing event held in Baton Rouge. “Not only will this service potentially reduce the number of vehicles on the roadways which will result in less congestion, but it will also connect communities through employment opportunities and allow for more transportation options for festivals, sporting events, and concerts.”
“Baton Rouge lost passenger rail service in 1969, two years before Amtrak began,” added Gardner. “This is a step toward correcting a gap in the Amtrak National Network that is more than 54 years old… Amtrak is working with states and others across the nation to have a route map that reflects where the population has grown and where people want to travel."
The service will utilize tracks owned by Canadian Pacific Kansas City (CPKC) and Canadian National (CN), and has already secured the cooperation of both railroads. The train will stop in downtown Baton Rouge, Baton Rouge South, Gonzales, LaPlace, New Orleans International Airport, Jefferson Parish (TBD), and New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal, shadowing the busy Interstate-10 corridor. The state is still working with Amtrak and CPKC to finalize a schedule, but the end-to-end trip is expected to take between 75-90 minutes, making it competitive with driving.
To advance construction on this project, the state of Louisiana is looking to access new federal funding opportunities created by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
“The Baton Rouge – New Orleans project is a perfect example of the good things that can happen when committed advocacy meets opportunity,” said Jim Mathews, President of the Rail Passengers Association. “Our members and our friends at the Southern Rail Commission have been working to restore this train for years, long before anyone knew there would be more than $66 billion for rail as part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. This week’s service development agreement is the fruit of that work, and I hope we see start to similar stories all across the U.S. as funds from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law begin to flow to the states.”
The project will need some of that commitment from advocates; Louisiana had applied for a CRISI grant, but missed the cut when the Federal Railroad Administration announced the FY22 recipients in September. Gov. Edwards, however, expressed confidence that the state has a "compelling application" that will fare well in future rounds of FRA funding.
"We look forward to advocating in concert with the incoming Landry Administration and Amtrak for this service to make efficient and effective use of available Federal infrastructure dollars to enhance the safety, speed, and reliability of this crucial rail link for its viability in the communities between Baton Rouge and New Orleans," said the Louisiana Association of Railroad Passengers in a press release. "We in our advocacy efforts have identified the railroad bridge transiting the Bonnet Carre Spillway, passing track to allow faster trains and greater throughput of train traffic, as well as important rail-highway grade separation programs in the vicinity of important commercial truck routes as the next projects of concern to enhance this rail link for the benefit of Louisiana citizens and businesses in the scope of this vital program."
The Southern Rail Commission has been actively working on this corridor since 2014, and maintains a helpful overview of the project development timeline on its website.
"Saving the Pennsylvanian (New York-Pittsburgh train) was a local effort but it was tremendously useful to have a national organization [NARP] to call upon for information and support. It was the combination of the local and national groups that made this happen."
Michael Alexander, NARP Council Member
April 6, 2013, at the Harrisburg PA membership meeting of NARP