Amtrak seeks expansion of Crescent section to Dallas-Ft. Worth

Company to apply for federal grant to determine necessary infrastructure work

By Bob Johnston

NEW ORLEANS — Amtrak will apply for a federal grant that, if approved by the Federal Railroad Administration, would pay for 80% of a study of track and station improvements necessary to extend a section of the New York-New Orleans Crescent between Meridian, Miss., and Fort Worth, Texas.

Nicole Bucich, Amtrak’s vice president of network development, acknowledged the encouragement of federal, state, and local officials, and a Louisiana-led Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvement grant application, in announcing the company is partnering with the Southern Rail Commission in applying for a Federal-State Partnership Program grant.

“We are very excited about the extension of the Crescent from Meridian to Dallas; you all have been working on this for a very long time,” Bucich told the group. “We feel this is the catalyst for a lot of work by many people in this community — not just the technical work that’s been done, but tremendous outreach that’s been going on.”

She added that the 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.” Bucich admitted, “This all happened very quickly, but sometimes it’s better when things are not so planned out.”
John Robert Smith, the former mayor of Meridian and Amtrak board of directors chairman who is now chairman of Transportation for America, noted at the meeting that efforts to extend a section of the Crescent over the jointly-owned Kansas City Southern-Norfolk Southern Meridian Speedway have been pursued for decades.

Amtrak did a feasibility study in 2015 that projected favorable financial returns before KCS management blocked consideration of any extension at the time. That changed with Canadian Pacific’s impending merger, in which CP officials indicated their willingness to look at passenger service on the corridor [see “Meeting explores prospects for passenger route …,” Trains News Wire, Nov. 4, 2022]. Amtrak has endorsed CP’s merger with KCS.

The Southern Rail Commission’s active engagement with the FRA, as well as the interest of Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), and Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), played a significant role. In statements, Hyde-Smith expressed appreciation of Amtrak’s involvement and Cassidy said, “This is another example of the Infrastructure and Jobs Act paying off for Louisiana.” Cassidy was one of the few Republicans who voted for the Biden administration’s initiative.

Southern Rail Commission Chairman Knox Ross said, “This has the potential to be the first new Amtrak long-distance service in more than 25 years, and it would come in an area that has long been underserved by passenger rail.” Communities such as Monroe and Ruston, La., have already begun exploring station sites.

In other significant developments at today’s Rail Commission meeting:

— New Orleans’ Louis Armstrong International Airport Authority is using an $8 million Federal Aviation Administration grant to begin ground improvements leading to development of a people-mover system to eventually link the airport with a proposed multi-modal rail station on a New Orleans-Baton Rouge, La., rail route. Amtrak officials recently hosted the airport authority’s director of aviation on a visit to Baltimore’s BWI Rail Station.

— Operating crew qualifications are continuing on Norfolk Southern and CSX Transportation tracks in preparation for initiation of two round-trips between New Orleans and Mobile, Alabama “later this year.” Amtrak Government Affairs Director Todd Stennis told the group seven conductor-engineer crews have been making qualification runs, and there has been extensive safety outreach with law enforcement along the route.