Ride the Rails from Louisiana to the Beach? Coming Soon
Residents of Lafayette, Alexandria, Shreveport, Lake Charles, and most other cities in Louisiana all share a similar complaint about heading to the beaches of Alabama and Florida. The complaint is always about the drive. From "it's too long" to "we have to go through Baton Rouge" to "that damn tunnel in Mobile" if you've been in a car going to the beach you've heard all of those and more.
If only there was a way you could relax and enjoy the ride while someone else drove. Oh, and you'd have a bathroom whenever you wanted without stopping. And, food and drinks would be available, again without finding an exit. If that's your idea of a better way to go then your time is coming. Or should I say your time is returning, sooner than later.
Amtrak's return to the Gulf Coast with passenger rail service is currently undergoing testing. In railroad lingo, the rail service is currently running "familiarization trips" on a stretch of rail from New Orleans to Mobile. These familiarization trips do two things.
They allow Amtrak crews to get acquainted with the geography, the crossings, the stations, the logistics, and of course the problems that could arise on such a journey. And they remind ground traffic that trains will soon be operating regularly and that service could create "problems" to the status quo.
One of those "problems" is reminding residents who live, work, and drive, around the rails themselves that active fast moving trains will soon be showing up at rail crossings. It's been a while since some people, especially in the more rural parts of the route have had to worry about an oncoming train.
Currently only freight trains run on the tracks between New Orleans and Mobile. There hasn't been passenger rail service along the Gulf Coast for just over 17 years. And if you do the math and count backward 17 years you can probably figure out what caused the interruption. By the way, if you said "Hurricane Katrina" you're good at math and history.
If you're wondering why the need for the special warnings its because passenger trains such as Amtrak's service use lighter and faster equipment than the freight trains do. Freight trains are meant to carry large loads over long distances. An Amtrak train might only be made up of a locomotive and five or six other carriages. Compared to freight trains, Amtrak trains are flying.
Despite the test trips Amtrak has still not issued an official "first run date" for when their trains will operate between New Orleans and Mobile. You can currently take an Amtrak train from Los Angeles to New Orleans and from Mobile to Jacksonville Florida so closing the gap along the Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama Gulf Coasts would be important economically in a lot of different ways.
Another shoe that I hope will drop once this "hole in the rails" has been plugged will be the opening or reopening of train stations in the Florida Panhandle. Currently, there aren't any that are open because, quite frankly, they don't need to be.
But with the influx of passengers there could soon be Amtrak stations in Pensacola, Destin, Panama City, Tallahassee, and other north Florida towns. Please note, that's speculation on our part, we have no official word concerning Florida stations, but it would make sense, right?
Currently Amtrak operates rail stations in Lafayette, New Iberia, Lake Charles, Hammond, Schriever, and New Orleans. And yes, I listed them out of their geographical order. But one day very soon you could catch the train in Lafayette or New Iberia in the morning and be sunning your buns on a Gulf Shores or Pensacola Beach just a few non-stressful hours later.
Hopefully all the familiarization runs will go smoothly and Amtrak will announce their return to the Gulf Coast in short order. We will certainly monitor the progress and keep you in the loop, Meanwhile, watch out for trains, all trains. They only cross the road in that one spot, you might as well look both ways.
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