SHREVEPORT, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – Proponents of closing the passenger rail gap between Marshall, Texas and Meridian, Mississippi are optimistic that some of the billions in the Biden administration’s infrastructure push could finally make the long-sought connection between Fort Worth and Atlanta a reality, and it would run right through North Louisiana along the I-20 corridor.
“Administrations have talked about infrastructure for 20 years, but no one has done anything about it,” said I-20 Corridor Council Chair Richard Anderson. “The present administration – and apparently, there is some bipartisan support, Democrat and Republican – for an infrastructure bill, which would include about $66 billion – that’s billion with a B – for Amtrak. And what we hope to do is to be able to tap into that in order to be able to create a traveling alternative for people.”
It’s an alternative Anderson says is sorely needed as capacity along I-20 has never been expanded in the 60 years since it was built, even as the population along the route has grown.
“It’s good for then environment because you can move more people with less impact, for one. It’s also more accomodative in the sense that people can work on their WiFi, they don’t have to drive, they can do what they want to do while they’re traveling.”
So what we’re looking at is attempting to implement this vision that we have with respect to creating an alternative for people to travel and they can put them on the railroad along with freight and other passengers at speeds from 90 to 150 mph.
Anderson says the completion of passenger rail along I-20 will connect millions of people.
“It will help Shreveport, Bossier, Marshall, Longview and all along the line, and you’re connecting 20 million people,” said Anderson, who has been leading efforts to establish a Southern rail connection along the I-20 corridor for more than a decade. “That’s the Houston-Dallas connection with Texas high-speed rail and then from Dallas over to Atlanta. That’s a combined figure, not counting the interim cities.”
And it all would be on existing rail lines.
“We’re not going to have to build any new tracks. It’s existing right of way all the way from Fort Worth to Atlanta.”
With the Canadian National Railroad in the process of acquiring Kansas City Southern, Anderson says things are on track for making the I-20 corridor a reality.
“KCS has a major presence in Shreveport and Bossier and KCS owns the tracks from Bossier to Meridian, so we have a 320 mile stretch in there in which we’ve got existing tracks but there’s no agreement for the passenger trains to run on those tracks. So what we have to do now, working with the administration and Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, is to bring these parties to the table and have Canadian National, which has already expressed an interest in talking with us, unlike Kansas City Southern, and have Canadian National come in and say, ‘We are interested in providing passenger rail from Bossier over to Meridian, Mississippi.’ Now, once that 320-mile loop is implemented, we’ve got a throughput all the way through from Fort Worth to Atlanta.”
Anderson says the council is working on an agreement to use the existing rail lines to allow for two passenger trains a day, with one going east and one going west, from Fort Worth to Atlanta.
“Now, once you connect with Atlanta, you are all the way up the Eastern seaboard, all the way to New York. So this would establish that rail link between not only just Fort Worth and Atlanta, and all the way to New York City.
The $973 billion infrastructure package is being touted by the Biden administration as the largest in transportation in nearly a century, with the promise of creating millions of jobs. If it works out, Anderson believes the final pieces of the puzzle will fall into place.
“We think that gives us the inside track, the opportunity, because we’ve got the studies that have already been done, which shows that this can be done with no annual operating subsidy from any of the states and Amtrak can actually make money on it.”
Anderson says studies have shown it can be done for less than the cost of constructing two miles of interstate highway.
“$80 million, two miles of interstate highway and we can create this transportation alternative, which will move people from point A to point B, C, D, all the way through F. It is a smart, economic move.”
If the funding comes through, Anderson says passengers could be hitting the rails between Fort Worth and Atlanta in less than two years.
“It’s not inconcievable that it could happen between 12 to 18 months.”
It’s a vision Shreveport Mayor Adrian Perkins supports.
“People want to be able to jump on the train to get to DFW, jump on the train to get to Jacksonville, Mississippi, or Birmingham, Alabama, Atlanta, Georgia.”
And Perkins, who was just appointed as an at-large member of the Southern Rail Commission that supports and influences Southern Rail initiatives, believes that is closer to becoming reality than ever.
“This puts us on step closer to getting the passenger rail here and I suspect over the next couple of years we’ll see that we will be able to jump on our first trains heading out of Shreveport.”