Update: The Gulf Coast Train.
For several decades, Amtrak’s iconic Sunset Limited crossed the entire continent on a glorious three-night odyssey between Los Angeles and Jacksonville, Florida. I did it once and it was a glorious ride.
Then, in August of 2005, Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast causing billions of dollars of damage and wiping out great stretches of track east of New Orleans. Still, within a matter of a few months, the track had been repaired or moved farther inland in some areas and CSX freights began rolling again. But not Amtrak. In fact, some 13 years after that awful storm, passenger service along the Gulf Coast still has not been restored.
Certainly the demand is there. A year or so ago, a special train made that run with a passenger list that included Amtrak officials, representatives of relevant state and federal agencies, plus business, political and community leaders from cities and towns along the way. Local residents, including hundreds of our RPA members, turned out at every station stop to proclaim their support for a new train.
Now, all these months later, everyone seems to have agreed that the three-night Los Angeles-New Orleans-Orlando route is impractical and a number of alternatives have been considered. Probably the odds-on favorite would turn the City of New Orleans into a two-night journey. Leaving Chicago, the train would follow its traditional route south to Memphis and on to New Orleans. But from there it would swing eastward, continuing on through a second night to Orlando.
Alas, if there has been any real progress on this issue, those involved are being very quiet about it. The last I heard, CSX, the freight railroad that owns the track, was playing hardball—demanding an absurd amount of money as compensation for accommodating one train a day in each direction. And Amtrak, as far as I know, has put forth no serious effort to make it happen. I suppose that’s because the current Amtrak leadership is too focused on cutting costs to even consider adding service.
Thirteen years after Katrina, we haven’t been able to get one train a day running along the Gulf Coast. And that’s pathetic.