September 25, 2023
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National passenger railroad operator Amtrak plans to apply, with the help of the Southern Rail Commission or SRC, for federal funding to study the potential for new train service between New York City, Atlanta, and Dallas/Fort Worth.

[Above photo by Amtrak]

Amtrak said it would enable that new service by extending a section of the popular Amtrak Crescent train from Meridian, MS, across Mississippi and Louisiana to Texas along Interstate 20.

Amtrak’s new Airo trainsets. Image by Amtrak.

Amtrak said it has been exploring this idea for more than 20 years, but the passage of the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act or IIJA in November 2021 creates “new opportunities” to study possible expanded long-distance Amtrak service.

“As the entity responsible for providing the nation’s long-distance intercity passenger rail service, Amtrak will work with our partners to seek the funds needed to study expansion and improvement options where strong stakeholder support exists and initial analysis show opportunity,” explained Nicole Bucich, Amtrak’s vice president of network development, in a statement.

Nicole Bucich. Photo by Amtrak.

“With the encouragement and support of federal, state and local officials, this application is the first step in determining the feasibility of this concept and the benefits and challenges, including federal funding commitments, of expanding Amtrak service to the I-20 route,” she added.

“This has the potential to be the first new Amtrak service of its kind in more than 25 years and it would come in an area that has long been underserved by passenger rail,” said SRC Chairman Knox Ross.

“Now that we have a way forward for new state-sponsored corridor service between New Orleans and Mobile, the I-20 route has been identified by the SRC as its next priority,” Ross noted.

If the study produces a “sufficient business case” for a direct passenger rail connection between the Northeast Corridor and fast-growing areas in the South and West, Amtrak said it would partner with the SRC and others to seek federal capital and operating support to initiate the service.

Amtrak’s Roger Harris. Photo by AASHTO.

This most recent expansion effort dovetails with the strategic view Roger Harris, president of Amtrak, shared during remarks at the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials Council on Rail Transportation 2023 Winter Meeting in Washington, D.C.

He believes passenger rail service in the United States is poised to greatly expand – especially in terms of long-distance routes – due in no small part to funding from the IIJA and Amtrak’s uptick in ridership, as it logged seven million new riders in 2022, which he called “an incredible marker for the growth of our business.”

However, Harris stressed that what is different going forward in light of the added funding from the IIJA is how its enhancing the partnerships Amtrak has with state transportation agencies.

“That’s where the real transformation is occurring,” he explained. “It is allowing us to open things up and think about new services. As we stand here today, we are entering a much more exciting time for Amtrak and for passenger rail.”

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