The long-held dream of a passenger rail link between Baton Rouge and New Orleans has come closer after officials from Canadian Pacific Railway, which is about to take ownership of the tracks between the two cities, have pledged to reintroduce the service on the line.
Canadian Pacific shareholders on Wednesday approved a $31 billion takeover of Kansas City Southern, which owns local train lines as part of its regional network. Kansas City Southern shareholders are expected to approve the deal later this week, ending a contentious ownership fight that hinged in part on the rail link between Louisiana’s two most populous cities.
Also Wednesday, Canadian Pacific’s head of strategic planning, James Clements, told Governor John Bel Edwards, business executives and other politicians attending a meeting in New Orleans that Canadian Pacific would now work with state and local governments, passenger rail operator Amtrak and other interested persons. parties to restart local passenger service as soon as possible.
“We are very much aware of the importance of expanding passenger rail service in South Louisiana and our goal is to help achieve that goal,” Clements said, noting that last year Amtrak cited the rail link from Baton Rouge to New Orleans as a priority in its spending plans.
The company, he said, is ready to start by freeing up capacity for one round trip per day between cities. The frequency could be increased depending on the improvements made to the line.
Officials did not provide a timeline or detailed plans for when the trips might begin.
The former New Orleans mayor carries a mixed legacy on public works projects
Edwards said Canadian Pacific’s commitment comes at the same time that federal funds are available for necessary rail line upgrades following the passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. of President Joe Biden.
The bipartisan legislation included $66 billion earmarked for rail improvements, including programs such as the Federal-State Partnership for Intercity Passenger Rail Grants, which would help fund Amtrak’s intercity goal of increasing passenger traffic. 20 million by 2035.
“Louisiana now has the opportunity to ensure that these dollars reach our state rather than other states for these purposes,” Edwards said.
A passenger train has not operated between Baton Rouge and New Orleans since 1969, when Kansas City Southern’s southern beauty the service has been interrupted. Restarting the service has public support. A 2019 poll of voters in the parishes of Ascension, East Baton Rouge, Jefferson, Orleans, St. James and St. John found that 63% would be interested in toeing the line.
For more than a decade, economic development officials in the region have touted a passenger rail link as a key way to foster growth in the region. The line would include stops in Baton Rouge at the Electric Depot on Government Street and the Bluebonnet-Essen-Perkins Medical District, Gonzales, LaPlace, and Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans, with a terminus at Union Passenger Terminal in New Orleans. near Caesars Superdome.
However, many obstacles remain to be overcome before the line can restart. Previous attempts to do so have failed, largely due to lawmakers’ opposition to spending state money on infrastructure upgrades.
The most recent example: The Louisiana Legislature in 2018 declined to apply for grants made available under the Federal Railroad Administration’s Consolidated Railroad Infrastructure and Safety Improvement Program. The funding, which could have at least partially helped pay for the roughly $260 million in needed improvements, required 50% state matching funds, which lawmakers balked at.
Will train service between New Orleans and Mobile begin January 1? Amtrak tells the feds to hurry
Funding made available through economic stimulus bills signed by President Barack Obama following the 2008-09 financial crisis was rejected by then-Governor Bobby Jindal, who was one of the many Republican governors to balk at federal support.
Proponents of a passenger rail link argue that this time the stars might align. With Canadian Pacific in charge of the line and with some of the federal rail money only requiring 20% local matching funding, this may mean that there would be no or only minimal local funding required.
New Orleans’ Union Passenger Terminal to get facelift after $3.7 million federal grant
The bulk of the necessary expenditure identified in a 2014 report on rail link improvements was $62 million to replace the 1.8-mile wooden rail bridge that crosses the Bonnet Carré weir. Freight trains traveling there must now slow to 10 miles per hour, which would make passenger travel too slow to be feasible.
John Spain, executive vice president of the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, a nonprofit civic organization and member of the Southern Rail Commission, said the replacement of the Bonnet Carré Railroad Bridge and other improvements will need to be made, that whether or not the passenger service is restored, so Canadian Pacific may have an incentive to invest its own money in order to obtain federal funds to help pay for the improvement of the assets it owns.
“It’s the start of the conversation,” Spain said. “No one is going to come to the poker table and say, ‘I’m going to put all my money in first.’ I think at some point CP is going to say, ‘Well, of course we know we’re going to have to fix it and I can’t ask for all that federal money unless I put some in.'”
Canadian Pacific was fighting a competing bid from Canadian National to buy Kansas City Southern, which had long opposed running passenger trains on the track it owned between Baton Rouge and New Orleans.
A key intervention with regulators came this summer from Amtrak, which opposed Canadian National Railway’s bid on the grounds that it would have derailed passenger service stimulus plans and reduced freight competition in the region.
3 MS Coast stations receive $700,000 for renovations before Amtrak returns in 2022
Canadian Pacific’s victory has now rekindled hopes that the link could finally return.
“It’s been talked about for decades and studied many times, but what’s important today is that we finally have a partner,” Spain said. “We now have a freight operator saying we’ll let you manage passenger service on our tracks, and that’s a dramatic start.”