Canadian Pacific Commits to New Orleans-Bâton Rouge Passenger Train if KCS Merger Approved (Update)

Southbound Amtrak City of New Orleans goes through Kenner, Louisiana. Kansas City Southern has operating rights to this track, which could be used for passenger service from New Orleans to Baton Rouge. This is a potential site for a train station that would provide shuttle service to New Orleans Louis Armstrong International Airport; the airport control tower is visible just to the right of the locomotive. (Bob Johnson)

Head shot of man in suit and tie with glasses
James Clements, Senior Vice President, Strategic Planning and Technology Transformation, Canadian Pacific. (Canadian Pacific)

NEW ORLEANS – A senior Canadian Pacific official told city leaders in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, La., Wednesday that the railroad will allow a single-passenger round trip between the two cities, without any infrastructure improvements, if CP’s merger with Kansas City Southern is approved by the Surface Transportation Commission.

James Clements, Canadian Pacific’s senior vice-president of strategic planning and technology transformation, admitted that right now, “it’s not a very fast…or high-capacity railroad, and it’s That’s why we think some improvements are needed for speed, in particular. Because there’s not a lot of capacity, we’re just not sure you can add a second [round trip] without significant impacts on passengers and freight.

He adds: “We are taking the capacity risk for the first pair of trains. We are not looking for capacity capital to add to the line [initially], but speed and security improvements may be needed to make transit times attractive. Amtrak and other agencies may need to fund certain upgrades to ensure the right product. We are always mindful of meeting the needs of freight shippers in this area, but we have been able to successfully expand Amtrak service into other markets over time.

Currently, the KCS bridge over the Bonnet Carré Spillway has a 10 mph limit, and Clements says CP hasn’t assessed whether it can be upgraded or needs to be replaced. Improvements to signaling, crossing protection, rails, sleepers and ballast may also be required. Station platforms that comply with Americans with Disabilities Act regulations should be constructed. A 2014 infrastructure report estimated the cost of needed improvements at $262 million, or about $306 million in 2021 dollars.

“You’re going to want to go at least 49 mph with no signals versus 10 and 25 mph,” says Clements. “It may need to be a bit more rugged than it is today for slow speed freight train operation.”

The New Orleans-Baton Rouge route has not had passenger service since late 1969, when KCS discontinued its last passenger train, the Beautiful from the south.

Vacant land next to the railway line with "No violation" sign in the foreground.
This lot in Gonzales, Louisiana is a potential station site for the New Orleans-Baton Rouge rail service on Kansas City Southern. (Bob Johnson)

Clements says CP and KCS are to operate as separate railroads with their respective managements until the merger is approved by the Surface Transportation Board; the earliest possible is the end of 2022.

He says CP also intends to work with stakeholders looking to add passenger service from Meridian, Miss., west to Shreveport, La., and Dallas, “once the “Proper consideration will have been made. We will be cooperative, not standoffish in this area. He notes, however, that the merged CPKC would not fully control the Meridian Speedway route, a joint venture with Norfolk Southern.

After Clements’ presentation, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) said the state intends to partner with the federal government, Amtrak and CP to take advantage of funding opportunities in recently adopted infrastructure legislation.

“There are investments that need to be made to ensure our success, but these pieces can come together; we’re going to have a concentrated effort,” says Edwards, “and I appreciate CP’s effort to initiate this dialogue. Louisiana continues to have discussions with federal partners about establishing rail service between New Orleans and Mobile, New Orleans and Baton Rouge, and initially in northern Louisiana. I believe this could be transformative for our state in many ways. »

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell, in a Friday, Dec. 10 statement, said CP’s commitment “is a critical step forward in our continued efforts to connect New Orleans by rail along from the southern Gulf. This essential connection will expand regional transportation and employment opportunities, and can provide an additional mode of evacuation from forecast storms, providing residents with immediate out-of-danger transit service in the event of an emergency. It’s a win-win situation for our entire region, connecting communities through transformative infrastructure projects and improving public safety as we continue to experience faster and more intense storms.

– Updated at 4:40 p.m. Dec. 11 with a statement from the mayor of New Orleans.

Jose P. Rogers