Early last year, Amtrak announced its plans to start up a passenger rail line from Mobile to New Orleans. Now, nearly a year later, and just in time for Mardi Gras, more meetings are taking place to discuss the future of the very controversial rail service. Keep reading to learn all the recent developments about the Mardi Gras Express.
Recap: The Mardi Gras Express
About a year ago, Amtrak and the Southern Railroad Commission announced plans to start up a passenger train ride that goes from New Orleans to Mobile and back twice a day, with four stops along the Mississippi coast, including Biloxi.
The original plan was for the Mardi Gras Express to kick off service on January 1st of this year, with two round-trip services between New Orleans and Mobile every day.
According to the original proposal, the Mardi Gras Express would depart from Mobile at 6:30AM, arriving in New Orleans at 9:53AM. The second trip leaves Mobile at 4:30PM, arriving in New Orleans at 7:53PM. Out of New Orleans, you can catch a ride at 7:35AM and 5:31PM.
Mixed Feelings over the Mardi Gras Express
There’s been a touch of controversy regarding Amtrak’s plans to resume passenger rail service to Mobile. Much of this controversy comes from the current use of Mobile’s railways by freight services delivering consumer goods and materials.
CSX Transportation, which runs the railway, is opposed to the current plan for the Mardi Gras Express due to concerns over delayed shipping times and lack of infrastructure. The Mardi Gras Express’ route would require freight services to yield to the passenger line about four times a day.
“An RTC [Rail Traffic Control] study was completed last year and showed significant impairment to freight service if no infrastructure improvements are made. Yet Amtrak proposes to begin this service without implementing those improvements.“Jim Foote, CEO & President of CSX Transportation, in an email to customers. Via Trains.com
In an email to customers of CSX Transportation, President and CEO Jim Foote stated that CSX is in favor of passenger services, but only if measures are taken to ensure there’s necessary infrastructure for both commercial & freight lines. Foote also pleaded with CSX customers to sign a petition against the Amtrak services.
Amtrak issued a strong response, calling out CSX for ”misleading” their customers and reinforcing the importance of a passenger railway for Mobile.
“The upcoming STB hearing will show that Amtrak has the right to use these tracks and the Gulf Coast community deserves to have passenger rail.”Part of Amtrak’s statement via Trains.com
What’s next for the Mardi Gras Express?
There are still quite a few logistics to work out before the Mardi Gras Express can roll out of the station. The Surface Transportation Board has scheduled the next several meetings, that will happen in two phases, aimed at finalizing plans for this rail line.
The first phase begins tomorrow, February 15th, at 8:30AM. This virtual meeting is open to the public via Zoom and YouTube. This first phase is acting as a community hearing to provide input to the Board regarding Amtrak’s plans.
The second phase is an evidentiary hearing where CSX, Norfolk Southern, The Alabama Port Authority, and Amtrak will make their case for (or against) the Mardi Gras Express. These meetings begin on March 9 at 8:30AM. This meeting will also be open to the public as well, streaming via Zoom and YouTube.
No concrete decisions have been made yet, but we will be updating on the Mardi Gras Express as meetings are held and decided. Stay tuned!