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New Orleans to Baton Rouge passenger train moves forward: State seeks federal funds to fix tracks

New Orleans to Baton Rouge passenger train
Alex Tirado
/
Gov. John Bel Edwards held a press conference on April 20, 2022 to promote the New Orleans to Baton Rouge passenger train.

Plans to unveil a long-awaited passenger rail line connecting New Orleans and Baton Rouge are moving forward. But first, the state of Louisiana is seeking federal funding to fix up the tracks between its two largest cities.

State transportation officials are currently wrapping up engineering and financing studies of the corridor, which should be completed in February, said Darrell Saizan, a senior consultant with Saizan and Associates, during a New Orleans City Council Transportation committee meeting Tuesday.

Those studies will determine the cost of updating the rail line, Saizan said. The preliminary price tag is between $250 million and $300 million.

Saizan said the biggest roadblock for a speedy and safe trip between the two cities is the rickety Bonnet Carré Spillway rail bridge, which runs parallel to Interstate 10 along Lake Pontchartrain in LaPlace.

The spillway bridge needs to be completely rebuilt, Saizan said. Right now, it’s “not suitable for passenger service.”

The state is seeking federal funding from the Biden administration’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to help cover the $80 million to $100 million it will take to rebuild the spillway connection, Saizan said, asking the council to send a letter of support to the U.S. Department of Transportation. The construction would take 18 to 24 months once funded.

The update comes one week after news broke that another rail line out of New Orleans will forge ahead. The Gulf Coast route connecting the city to Mobile will see passenger service for the first time since Hurricane Katrina, after Amtrak, freight rail companies and the Port of Mobile struck a deal on Nov. 22, according to Mississippi Today.

In August, Louisiana got its first tranche of federal funding to help establish the commuter rail, specifically to begin purchasing real estate in Baton Rouge and Gonzales and to design and build train stations, according to the Louisiana Illuminator.

The exact locations of all train stops – and how often trains will run – remains undecided as the state completes its engineering and financing studies. But according to the Southern Rail Commission, Baton Rouge has begun planning two stations – one downtown and one suburban location. LaPlace and Gonzales also have plans underway.

Saizan said that the line will be integrated into Louis Armstrong International Airport and Union Passenger Terminal in New Orleans, and that trains will likely run twice a day.

Council members expressed their excitement that plans are moving forward. But it wasn't immediately clear by the end of the meeting if the council would move forward with a letter to the U.S. DOT of support for funding.

Advocates for inter-city rail between New Orleans and Baton Rouge say that the train will help alleviate traffic between the cities, provide greater access to jobs throughout the region, as well as offer an alternative evacuation route during emergencies.

Carly Berlin is the New Orleans Reporter for WWNO and WRKF. She focuses on housing, transportation, and city government. Previously, she was the Gulf Coast Correspondent for Southerly, where her work focused on disaster recovery across south Louisiana during two record-breaking hurricane seasons. Much of that reporting centered on the aftermath of Hurricanes Laura and Delta in Lake Charles, and was supported by a grant from the Pulitzer Center.