Grant sought to study N.O.-Orlando rail service _lowres

Associated Press photo provided by Amtrak -- The Sunset Limited travels west near Sanderson, Texas, in 2008 in its trek from New Orleans to Los Angeles. The route extended east to Orlando, Florida, before Hurricane Katrina.

The Southern Rail Commission has applied for a $1 million federal grant to look at the feasibility of restoring passenger train service between New Orleans and Orlando, Florida.

Amtrak’s Sunset Limited, which runs from New Orleans to Los Angeles, had a leg to Orlando until Hurricane Katrina struck in August 2005.

New Orleans is served by two other long-distance trains: the Crescent, which provides daily service to Atlanta and New York, and the City of New Orleans, with daily service to Memphis and Chicago.

The Sunset Limited is a triweekly route.

The commission has applied for funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery program to study the feasibility of restoring daily passenger railroad service across the Gulf Coast.

The money will be used to examine transportation gaps, determine where rail stations should be located, and identify capital needs and potential funding sources.

As a part of the effort, the SRC has hired Transportation for America to provide consulting services on getting federal support for expanded passenger rail service in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

Transportation for America is an alliance of government, business and civic leaders that urges federal investment in solving transportation problems.

“Local leaders and businesses have come together under the leadership of the Southern Rail Commission to fight for the restoration of passenger rail service lost in the wake of Hurricane Katrina,” said Beth Osborne, a former DOT official, now with Transportation for America.

“If funded, this project would bring that service back better and stronger than it was before to support the growing economy along the Gulf Coast,” she said.

The Southern Rail Commission, which was formed by Congress in 1982, promotes economic development along rail corridors and works with public and private interests to push rail initiatives.

New Orleans had 212,426 passengers get on or off an Amtrak train in 2013, an increase of about 100,000 passengers since Hurricane Katrina, Amtrak president and CEO Joseph Boardman said last month, making stops in New Orleans and Slidell to tout the importance of service to those cities.