Trains For America

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Advocates gather to promote Sunset route

Progressive Railroading carries a report on efforts to revitalize the Sunset route. It is probably the first priority for improving the national Amtrak system. In fact, it is not too much to suggest that there is no national system without the Sunset. Nonetheless, the Bush administration works behind the scene to eliminate this essential piece of the grid.

Yesterday, the Sunset Marketing and Revitalization Team (SMART) held its first formal meeting at New Orleans’ Union Passenger Rail Terminal. Formed last year, the grassroots passenger-rail advocacy group aims to improve and expand passenger-rail service along the Gulf Coast. The organization is patterned after the Texas Eagle Marketing and Performance Organization, which was formed a decade ago to restore and improve Amtrak’s Texas Eagle service.

SMART’s first mission: to get Amtrak to reinstate Sunset Limited service from New Orleans to Orlando. In 2005, Amtrak truncated the route, which originally ran from Los Angeles to Orlando, at New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. The railroad didn’t resume service to Orlando after the lines were restored by CSX Transportation.

“Today’s trackage is superior to what existed pre-Katrina, and demand [is] high, yet Amtrak has not restored the service,” said Matthew Melzer, communications associate for SMART founding member the National Association of Railroad Passengers, in a prepared statement.

In fiscal-year 2007, Sunset Limited ridership was up 22.1 percent. Prior to Hurricane Katrina, the New Orleans-to-Orlando segment accounted for 28 percent of the route’s miles, but 39 percent of ridership and 41 percent of revenue.

A few random thoughts:

  • Equipment is the most urgent need. This has several consequences, among which are that congress and Amtrak must also believe that improving the Sunset is item one.
  • One reason equipment is such an urgent requirement is that daily service is an absolute necessity. The Sunset must be brought up to the same capacity as other long-distance trains without stealing from existing consists.
  • Amtrak faces severe equipment shortages, of which congress seems somehow to be unaware.  A month or two of the Iraq war would provide enough rolling stock to operate current routes and operate new service.
  • The above items mean that full restoration is years away. This is both a disappointment and an opportunity. Advocates will have plenty of time to develop relationships with community leaders, lawmakers, Amtrak, and Union Pacific.
  • Public-private partnerships to upgrade infrastructure can benefit both the operating lines and Amtrak.
  • UP must be encouraged to improve time keeping. (Any brilliant ideas?)
  • Amtrak is losing crucial supporters in Mississippi and Texas, both Sunset states. Advocates must develoop intelligent and courteous presentations to federal legislative candidates.
  • Running straight through Los Angeles – Orlando is an operational nightmare. Equipment should turn in New Orleans for both directions. There should be a same-day connection, however.

Filed under: Amtrak, Passenger Rail Politics, Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy, Regional USA Passenger Rail

One Response

  1. CL says:

    I tried for half an hour on the amtrak site to figure out how to book this route online, because it still shows up on the route map and I needed it! How very frustrating to finally realize it had to have been discontinued — but to find here that it was discontinued in 2005 and it still shows… no wonder amtrak is having trouble. You can book air travel AND fly to your destination in less time than it takes to fight through the amtrak site. ** Best of luck – it won;t be in time for me, but it looks like a no-brainer route.

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