Amtrak Service From Louisiana to Gulf Coast Beaches – Updated
Passenger rail service between Louisiana and the Gulf Coast Beaches of Alabama and Florida has been in limbo since 2005. That was the year that Hurricane Katrina did some "significant renovations" along the stretch of coastline and the rail lines that serve Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.
To be clear, if you wanted to ride an Amtrak train in Louisiana you can do that. Amtrak's Sunset Limited can carry you west from New Orleans through the Beaumont and Houston Texas area, through the desert southwest, and on to Los Angeles. That service is quite popular indeed.
However, going eastbound from New Orleans has been quite a chore since Katrina. In fact, passengers on the eastbound run of the Sunset Limited, from Los Angeles California have their journey terminated in New Orleans.
But, once upon a time you could take the Sunset Limited all the way to Jacksonville Florida. And there is reason to believe that once Amtrak and the city of Mobile Alabama can come to terms that journey might resume in the not-too-distant future.
The return of passenger rail service to the Gulf Coast has been discussed many times since 2005. However, this year we have seen the first real steps in returning that service to places like Biloxi, Gulfport, and Pascagoula. Those towns have either refurbished, rebuilt, or renovated train stations in preparation for the return of passengers. Once Amtrak reached an agreement with the freight lines that own the tracks, the return to passenger rail service to a big step forward.
For the past few months, Amtrak trains have been running training routes between New Orleans and Mobile. Part of the training is for the Amtrak crews to get used to the line. The other part of the training has to do with people who live and work near the rail lines.
Since those tracks have been "quiet" since 2005 many communities needed to have their memories refreshed with what it is like to have fast-moving trains flying into and out of their towns. There were many rural crossings that needed to be vetted, restored, and even replaced. People needed to be reminded to once again look both ways at the railroad crossing.
When Will Amtrak Service Begin Between New Orleans and Mobile?
That's the (assign an amount of money) dollar question that everyone involved with the project is asking. Originally the plan was to begin passenger rail service on the line between NOLA and Mobile as soon as October. However, that deadline appears to be in serious jeopardy.
The hangup right now is in the City of Mobile. Since Mobile will be the beginning of the line. So, there will need to be significant improvements and changes made to the train station in Mobile, Alabama. The station will not only have to serve passenger needs but trains will be parked there overnight in between runs and when those trains are parked they can't be stopped on the mainline so spurs will need to be constructed as well.
City leaders in Mobile and officials with Amtrak and CSX, the freight line that owns the tracks, are in negotiations about the construction of the new station and who will bear what costs. One member of the Mobile City Council suggested that a temporary station could be built but it would still take about four months to complete work would not begin until a deal is finalized.
Maybe You'll Be Riding the Rails in Louisiana by Mardi Gras
As of August 3, 2023, the best "guess" at when train service will begin is now February of 2024. That wouldn't be a bad time for that to happen. Both New Orleans and Mobile host really righteous Mardi Gras celebrations and being able to ride the rails between the two cities during Carnival Season would be a special treat.
The Southern Rail Commission which plays a huge part in how fast this project will be completed is scheduled to meet on the project on September the 8th. We should know more following that meeting on whether a February return to service is going to happen or not.
In the meantime, we'll keep our ear on the rails and we'll let you know if and when we hear a train coming and if and when that train will stop and let you ride to the beaches of Mississippi and Lower Alabama someday.
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