The people of the Gulf Coast have overwhelmingly made their voices heard that the suspension of Amtrak passenger rail service between New Orleans and Florida is overdue to be lifted. CSX Transportation, the corporation which owns the line between New Orleans and Jacksonville via Mobile and Biloxi, has issued correspondence as of November 2016 to the Federal Railroad Administration that it is not willing to cooperate unless a $2.3 billion taxpayer-funded package is offered up: consisting of new "PTC" signaling (which Congress has already mandated under federal safety guidelines dating back to 2008), and an all-new continuous track of rail alignment between Mobile and New Orleans.

The Gulf Coast Railroad alignment in question has seen a reduction in the number of daily freight trains since fall of 2016. This can be accounted for by changes in CSX operating practices aimed at increasing productivity by using fewer freight trains to move significant loads. Fewer trains moving up and down the railroad between New Orleans and Mobile are not a matter upon which to build a case to make before Congress that said railroad should be rebuilt entirely using tax dollars merely because four daily trains would carry passengers. Moreover, no one would ever be bamboozled into thinking that a historically low amount of traffic should prompt the rebuilding and enlarging of a public road such as an interstate. Therefore why should the people of the Gulf Coast be expected to believe that CSX can shrug its shoulders and play games with Congress?

The taxpayers, local officials and businesses of our Gulf Coast want CSX to honor its obligations as a common carrier of rail traffic. CSX is and always has been under a legal obligation to facilitate operation of passenger trains under the auspices of a congressionally managed procedure dating back to the Rail Passenger Service Act of 1970. Today a bipartisan effort stands in the form of the FAST Act of 2015, which contains language by which Congress can make good on the recommendation of the working group which it created to carefully study the needs that must be met in order for passenger trains to run again on the Gulf Coast: Congress was presented a final report in recent months by the aforementioned FRA Working Group which recommends a phased multiyear package of almost $118 million in improvements to the railroad via federal and nonfederal sources. The people have spoken. They want passenger rail back on the coast, so let's please not punt the football. Let's call on Congress to get to work on infrastructure and hold CSX accountable for working to obstruct our region's best economic interests.

Andrew Lodriguss

college student