Progress for passenger rail in the South and beyond

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Two recent developments at the federal level can help propel passenger rail expansion in the South and across the country. 

A shiny passenger train chugs down the track in a southern town
An Amtrak Crescent line train heads south. Wikimedia Commons photo.

Interstate Rail Compact Grant

The states of Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana make up the Southern Rail Commission (SRC), which has been steadfastly committed to expanding passenger rail service in the South for the past 40 years, most recently achieving success for the restoration of service on the Gulf Coast.

On March 14th, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) announced that the SRC, along with rail commissions in the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic won an Interstate Railway Compact (IRC) grant. The SRC will match 50 percent of the $400,000 they have been awarded and use these funds to hire more people, market passenger rail, conduct impact studies, and apply for more federal grants. In short, they can spend the money on everything but running the service itself.

The SRC has been fighting the good fight for decades. Passenger rail service in the United States has been on the ropes for decades, with much of the service in the South phased out in the 70s. The situation only worsened after Hurricane Katrina in 2005; passenger rail service has not been running on the Gulf Coast for nearly 20 years.

The grant spells good things for the ongoing fight for passenger rail. In addition to the restoration of service on the Gulf Coast, the SRC has several projects to support, including passenger rail extensions between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, Mobile to New Orleans, and Dallas to Atlanta. This grant will help them further advance their efforts.

Passenger Rail Advisory Committee

Hot off the heels of the IRC grant announcements, the Surface Transportation Board (STB) has publicly announced the membership of their new Passenger Railway Advisory Committee (PRAC). The STB’s duties related to passenger rail service have expanded in recent years, leading to the creation of the PRAC. This committee is intended to advise on increasing route efficiency, mediating between passenger and freight companies, and improving inter-city rail-related processes. Its formation is a testament to continued progress for passenger rail at the federal level, which we hope will translate to support for passenger service across the country.

Among the names of the 21 voting members lies our own chair, John Robert Smith, former Amtrak board member and former member/long-time advisor to the SRC. The inclusion of advocates like John Robert, who have dedicated decades in the pursuit of passenger rail service across the country, will be critical in supporting expansion efforts in the present day.

While these advancements for passenger rail are particularly good news for the South, they’re also proof of what’s possible in the rest of the country. The SRC continues to build upon their recent success in the Gulf Coast, showing what bipartisan leadership on interstate rail can accomplish. As support for passenger rail continues to evolve at the federal level, we hope more leaders will follow their example.

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