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Baton Rouge to New Orleans passenger train: When will operations begin, route details, more

The route’s first terminal in Baton Rouge is planned to be built near the site pictured above, at the intersection of Government St. and 14th St. in Baton Rouge’s Mid City.
Aubry Procell
The route’s first terminal in Baton Rouge is planned to be built near the site pictured above, at the intersection of Government St. and 14th St. in Baton Rouge’s Mid City.

Canadian Pacific Railway has committed to providing a passenger train route between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, Mayor LaToya Cantrell announced in early December.

So, what can Louisianans expect from the long-anticipated project?

When might operations begin?

Fortunately, there’s already a freight route that runs along the same track as the proposed passenger line. The infrastructure is already in place, and the passenger route could begin completing one round-trip journey per day late next year.

However, the timing of the service’s full launch depends on how quickly Canadian Pacific can complete its merger with Kansas City Southern, which currently owns the track on which the line would run.

The Baton Rouge Area Foundation plans to ask Canadian Pacific if it can begin trips before the merger is complete, but the track still has to be inspected before passenger lines can operate.

How will it operate?

Baton Rouge Area Foundation Executive Vice President John Spain said that additional daily round trips will be added based on the number of passengers who use the service and upgrades to the track’s existing infrastructure. At night, the plan is for the route to be used for freight transport.

The route would begin near the Electric Depot in Mid City of Baton Rouge and end in downtown New Orleans, about a block away from the Superdome. There will be stops in smaller cities along the route, including LaPlace and Gonzales, and near economic hubs, including the Mall of Louisiana and the Louis Armstrong International Airport (MSY).

Some of the track’s current infrastructure, most notably the Bonnet Carré Spillway rail bridge, isn’t equipped to handle trains going over 10 miles per hour. Spain said that after old, wooden bridges along the route are brought up to date, the train should maintain a pace of 80 miles per hour. Infrastructure upgrades are also one of Canadian Pacific’s conditions for supporting the expansion of passenger trips along the route.

MSY officials have supported placing a train terminus close to the airport’s new Union Passenger Terminal near the Caesars Superdome. Spain said that would require laying down some new track, but it would allow for seamless, “multimodal” travel in the style of European transportation.

In a statement, Cantrell said the rail line will “expand regional transportation and employment opportunities, and can provide an additional mode of evacuation from forecasted storms.”

“This is a win-win for our entire region, connecting communities through transformative infrastructure projects and by improving public safety as we continue to experience faster, more intense storms,” Cantrell said.

Over 200,000 passengers are expected to ride the line annually. Besides its utility as an evacuation option, the line is expected to help those who commute between Baton Rouge and New Orleans for work and those traveling to and from Louis Armstrong International Airport.

Who's paying for it?

Initial funding will come in part from the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that was signed into law last month. The bill includes $66 billion in funding for railroad infrastructure nationwide.

Officials plan to apply for some of those funds to upgrade the infrastructure necessary for the passenger route to become fully operational.

Spain said that the passenger train will come from Amtrak, which receives some of its funding from state and federal subsidies. He added that passenger fare is expected to cover 50% to 60% of the route’s operation.

Will it work out this time?

The passenger line has support from the track’s new operator, local officials and multiple area foundations in Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

Kansas City Southern doesn’t run passenger train routes, but Canadian Pacific has a strong working relationship with Amtrak’s passenger train services in other parts of the country.

There’s also the $66 billion in the federal infrastructure bill dedicated to intercity rail projects, and former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu is leading the disbursement of those funds.

Former Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal derailed the plans in 2009, despite support for the project from members of his administration, by turning down $300 million in funding for a passenger train route between the state’s two largest cities, calling it “wasteful spending.” But on Friday, Gov. John Bel Edwards said he is “absolutely committed to working with the freight and passenger community” in a meeting with Canadian Pacific executives.

“The stars really have aligned,” Spain said.

Spain said that Canadian Pacific has an interest in developing this route so it can use the track for freight trains at night to transport Canadian crude oil through the Port of New Orleans. In the merger with Kansas City Southern, Canadian Pacific will further expand its train network to ports in the United States and Mexico, creating “the first real North American Railroad,” as Spain put it.

Copyright 2021 WRKF

Aubry is a reporter, producer and operations assistant in Baton Rouge.

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