June 5, 2023 - TRA Newswire -

Amtrak has submitted applications for approximately $716 million in Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) funding for 16 proposed projects around the country that would improve Long Distance reliability, reduce travel times and expand service. These include extending the Amtrak Crescent from Mississippi through Louisiana to Dallas-Fort Worth and increasing service on the Sunset Limited, which runs parallel to the I-10 corridor through Texas.

“Amtrak’s Long Distance routes are vital mobility and economic links for communities around the country and we’re continually working to enhance them,” said Amtrak Board Chair Tony Coscia. “These grant applications reiterate our commitment to improving service for all Amtrak customers, from small, rural towns to major metropolitan areas.”

The applications were submitted through two FRA programs funded by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), including the Federal-State Partnership for Intercity Passenger Rail Program funding opportunity for projects outside the Northeast Corridor and the Corridor Identification and Development Program (Corridor ID Program).

Congressman Nathaniel Moran (R-TX-01) said “This infrastructure will set the groundwork towards revitalizing historic downtowns across the First District of Texas and catalyzing local economic development, while expanding opportunities in these communities. Thank you to Amtrak for their support and recognition of the need to expand much-needed transit across East Texas through the I-20 Passenger Rail Corridor project.”

Moran was joined by Congressman Colin Allred (D-TX-32) who commented “As Texas continues to grow, we need more transportation options to give folks the flexibility they need to travel and connect our communities. This funding was made possible thanks to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which I proudly helped pass. I support this project because building long-distance rail along the I-20 corridor will benefit folks from Dallas to Longview and all the way to Louisiana – all while helping to grow our economy.”

Improvements to the Sunset Limited, which only operates tri-weekly across the southern tier of Texas counties between El Paso and Beaumont would mean more choices to ride on a daily basis. The train serves intermediate points at Alpine, Sanderson, Del Rio, San Antonio and Houston. Del Rio recently lost its only air service with American Airlines pulling out of the market due to staffing issues, leaving the city with only a train three times a week and limited intercity bus service. Expansion of the Sunset Limited would also include plans to return to Phoenix, AZ. The train operates from Los Angeles to New Orleans and stops in many underserved towns and cities. 

The Crescent, which operates daily from New York through Atlanta to New Orleans, would see a section of that train split at Meridian, Mississippi and continue on through Shreveport and East Texas to Dallas-Fort Worth. Texas cities that would gain daily service to eastern states include Mineola, Longview and Marshall.

In 2015, an Amtrak feasibility study was conducted showing that a long-distance passenger rail connection could operate profitably over existing railroad infrastructure along the I-20 corridor. Additionally, another study in 2017 said that less than $80 million is required as an initial investment between Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. Both Canadian Pacific (CP) and Amtrak have announced plans to conduct a study that would help finalize a cooperative agreement to operate the passenger train for the I-20 corridor over track that had been owned by Kansas City Southern (KCS) prior to CP’s approved acquisition of KCS. 

U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA), a champion for the I-20 extension, said “This investment from the infrastructure law will connect Louisiana’s I-20 corridor with Atlanta and Dallas,” said Dr. Cassidy.  “It strengthens north Louisiana cities by better integration into interstate commerce.”

The Southern Rail Commission had been working tirelessly with Amtrak on the I-20 extension. Southern Rail Commission Chairman Knox Ross said “The Southern Rail Commission is pleased to partner with Amtrak and the Louisiana and Mississippi Departments of Transportation as a part of a Federal/State Partnership application to begin the work to implement Amtrak service on the I-20 Corridor. The SRC and its partner cities on the corridor are excited about the potential of connecting our unique offerings of culture and opportunity with the rest of the country. Amtrak’s historic commitment to studying this service is a significant first step in making that connection a reality.”

All in all, the applications have been cheered on by Rail Passengers Association President & CEO Jim Mathews. “From the proposal to bring daily service to the Sunset Limited and Cardinal to the exciting prospect of new service across the U.S. Southeast, these are vital and long-overdue investments in a connected America. Every dollar the IIJA invests in passenger rail creates a return on taxpayers’ equity, delivering many multiples in annual economic benefits to the communities where these new and improved services will run. These interstate corridors connect small towns and big cities alike, and we applaud Amtrak’s grant requests and their efforts to ensure that the 62 million people who live in rural America—a quarter of whom are veterans and another quarter who are seniors—aren’t left behind.”

Photo credit: Amtrak