Happening Now

NARP CEO to Speak on Post-Katrina Panel Covering Gulf Coast Rail Service

June 17, 2015

Release #15-14

For Immediate Release (#15-14) Contact: Benet J. Wilson

June 17, 2015 202-408-8362, ext. 3203

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Jim Mathews, president and CEO of the National Association of Railroad Passengers, will be among the speakers on a panel -- Y’All Aboard -- on the progress and support for restoring passenger rail service across the Gulf Coast corridor. The event, hosted by the Southern Rail Commission, will be held tonight at 7:00 p.m. at the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum in Biloxi, Mississippi.

Between 1993 and 2005, Amtrak operated the nation’s only coast-to-coast passenger train. Running more than 2,700 miles between Orlando and Los Angeles, the Sunset Limited connected larger cities including Orlando, New Orleans, Tucson, Arizona, and Los Angeles, with 29 smaller communities.

Passenger rail service linking the Mississippi Gulf Coast to the rest of the nation needed a rehab even before Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. But after the hurricane caused significant damage to the railroad line along the Gulf Coast, Amtrak was forced to suspend service east of New Orleans. Although the line has since been repaired, Amtrak has yet to restore the service.

“Since 2005, NARP has consistently called for the restoration of service between New Orleans and Orlando. Our members have made the case for its renewal to their state and local governments, and we have made the case here in Washington,” said Mathews. “And we’ve been willing to make that case even when Amtrak has been reluctant to do so.”

NARP knows that the demand for the Gulf Coast service is there. “We’ve long argued that long-distance trains are an integral part of our nation’s public transit network,” said Mathews. “By connecting smaller communities with larger cities, these trains offer Americans an alternative to car travel that they might not otherwise have.”

NARP believes people should consider intermodal and rail as they would any other transportation investment. “The payoff to a municipality, state or region to invest is not just in farebox recovery, but in whether the transportation fulfills a local or regional need in bringing jobs and the preconditions for a healthy economy and jobs to that area,” said Mathews.

Seven of the 12 communities between New Orleans and Jacksonville, Florida, whose service was suspended post-Katrina, have no air service, and four have no intercity bus service, leaving those four areas without any public transportation option. “Reconnecting these areas to the rest of the economy should produce a net benefit beyond direct investment in rail service by easing the Gulf Coast’s isolation from access to other markets for travel and tourism revenue,” said Mathews.

Mathews will join a group of coastal advocates who believe the timing is right to bring back viable passenger rail service that provides dependable service to the Gulf Coast region. Other speakers include: Pelahatchie Mayor Knox Ross, Chairman of the Southern Rail Commission; Ocean Springs Mayor Connie Moran; NARP member Dr. Paul Nelson; Todd Stennis, director of government affairs for Amtrak; and John Robert Smith, chairman of Transportation for America.

The Southern Rail Commission has applied for a Federal Railroad Administration planning grant to assess the feasibility of intermodal needs and recommend the restoration of passenger rail service from New Orleans to Orlando to support the growing economy along the Gulf Coast. NARP has pledged matching funds in the commission’s grant application for the feasibility study.

About the National Association of Railroad Passengers

NARP is the only national organization speaking for the users of passenger trains and rail transit. We have worked since 1967 to expand the quality and quantity of passenger rail in the U.S. Our mission is to work towards a modern, customer-focused national passenger train network that provides a travel choice Americans want. Our work is supported by more than 28,000 individual members nationwide.