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Passenger rail service restoration could be possible in the future for the Gulf Coast. As part of the effort, officials charged with securing the funds to bring back the long-gone service are asking for public input on how it could be restored.

The Gulf Coast Rail Service Working Group was established in December 2015 to evaluate the restoration of rail passenger service between New Orleans and Florida. The previously existing passenger rail service was halted in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. While damage to the route was quickly repaired after the hurricane and freight service was restored, passenger rail service has been absent from the Gulf Coast corridor for a decade.

The group evaluating the possible restoration of passenger rail service includes members from the Federal Railroad Administration, Amtrak, CSX, Southern Rail Commission, West Florida Regional Planning Council, and other stakeholders along the Gulf Coast.

An Amtrak Inspection train arrives in Pensacola, Fla. on February 19, 2016.(Drew Buchanan/The Pulse)

An Amtrak Inspection train arrives in Pensacola, Fla. on February 19, 2016.(Drew Buchanan/The Pulse)

In February — for the first time in more than a decade — an iconic red, white, and blue striped Amtrak passenger train stopped in Pensacola as it made its way across the Gulf Coast along the proposed new line. The occasion brought hundreds of Pensacolians out to cheer and celebrate as well-wishers packed Pensacola’s long-vacant train station. Railroads like the L&N and Frisco lines once connected Gulf Coast towns to the rest of the country via trains like the Gulf Wind and the Sunnyland.

The purpose of the 550 mile excursion — stretching from New Orleans to Jacksonville — was to survey the CSX-owned rail lines and other infrastructure and make the next step in gauging the public interest in restoring passenger rail service along the Gulf Coast and into central Florida.

The former Amtrak station, owned by the City of Pensacola. (Drew Buchanan/The Pulse)

The former Amtrak station, owned by the City of Pensacola. (Drew Buchanan/The Pulse)

The Gulf Coast working group has been convening to discuss details for the possible restoration, including funding and prioritization of actions to be taken should the restoration be approved. The result of these meetings will be a full report submitted by the group to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation of the Senate, and the committee on Transportation and Infrastructure of the House of Representatives.

Officials are asking for community input regarding the proposed project. Senator Bill Nelson, a ranking member of the Senate Committee that will review the final report, is calling on citizens to offer their ideas and positions on the project and to contact his office.

(Drew Buchanan/The Pulse)

A proposed route for the Sunset Limited east of New Orleans. (Drew Buchanan/The Pulse)

Community members are encouraged to send an email stating their position on the project to one of the following contacts at Senator Bill Nelson’s office by the end of the year:

Devon Barnhart – [email protected]

Mary Louise Hester – [email protected]
For more information, contact West Florida Regional Planning Council Planner, Vikki Garrett, at 850-332-7976, Ext. 211 or [email protected].

Send your message to Senator Nelson’s office below:

 

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