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In promoting New Orleans to Baton Rouge passenger train, Gov. John Bel Edwards takes a ride

Gov. John Bel Edwards held a press conference on April 20, 2022 to promote the 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.

Gov. John Bel Edwards took a train from Baton Rouge to New Orleans on Wednesday morning — a trip he hopes everyone will be able to book soon.

The ride was meant to both inspect the route and promote his dream for regular passenger train service between Louisiana’s capital and largest city.

“You all know that for years, this passenger rail link has been something people across Louisiana have talked about,” Edwards said. “The desire has always been there, we just didn’t have the means.”

Before boarding, Edwards said creating this line has long been a priority for his administration, but the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed last November has put coal on the train engine fire. The law provides $66 billion for Amtrak to invest in old and new lines.

One of the biggest roadblocks that prevents passenger trains from running comes from the private companies that actually own the tracks. Most companies prioritize the more profitable freight rail service over passenger trains.

But Canadian Pacific Railway committed in December to allowing a passenger route between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. While that company doesn’t own the line yet, it’s working on merging with Kansas City Southern, which does. Whether the merge happens will be decided by the Surface Transportation Board, federal regulators responsible for the industry.

The board is currently deciding on the fate of another New Orleans Amtrak dream to connect the Crescent City to Mobile, Alabama and four Mississippi coastal cities in between. CSX and Norfolk Southern, the private companies that own those railroads, oppose the route, saying it would cause long delays for freight trains without $405 million infrastructure spending by Amtrak. Alabama also opposes Amtrak’s plans, worrying it will harm the growth of Mobile’s port.

Edwards on Wednesday spoke in favor of the Mobile-New Orleans line. He believes it would boost the state’s economy, as would a New Orleans to Baton Rouge train. Relieving congestion and reducing emissions on roads like Interstate 10 would be another benefit, he said.

Stephan Bisaha is the wealth and poverty reporter for the Gulf States Newsroom, a regional collaboration between NPR and member stations in Alabama (WBHM), Mississippi (MPB) and Louisiana (WWNO and WRKF). He reports on the systemic drivers of poverty in the region and economic development.

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