Federal grant for Gulf Coast passenger rail could be good sign for BR-NO line

    The U.S. Department of Transportation announced today a $4.36 million grant to the Southern Rail Commission to help restore Gulf Coast passenger rail service between New Orleans and Mobile, Alabama.

    And while the announcement doesn’t mention Baton Rouge, the federal government’s decision to prioritize passenger rail funding could bode well for future funding opportunities for the proposed line between the Capital City and New Orleans, which has been talked about for years but lacks financing. 

    “This has nothing to do with the Baton Rouge to New Orleans line, other than funding,” says John Spain, chairman of the Southern Rail Commission. “These funds coming from Congress are pots of funds that would be available for Baton Rouge to New Orleans.”

    The grant announced today follows an earlier $33 million federal grant awarded to the Southern Rail Commission in June for the restoration of the Gulf Coast passenger rail service, which was suspended in 2005 due to damage caused by Hurricane Katrina. 

    That first New Orleans-Mobile grant is for needed infrastructure restoration, says Spain, while this second one will fund rail line operations. 

    Today’s grant is awarded by the Federal Railroad Administration’s 2017 Restoration and Enhancement Grants Program, which provides operating assistance funding for initiating, restoring or enhancing intercity passenger rail service. 

    U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao, in a statement announcing the grant, said the rail grant will help Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama “to enhance regional economic growth and rural mobility.”

    Following the announcement, Spain says he’s optimistic for the future of the Baton Rouge-New Orleans commuter rail.

    “We’re encouraged that Congress and the transportation secretary have made passenger rail a priority,” he says. 

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