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I like trains. I commuted to my masters on the NYC subway. I commuted in Philly by heavy and light rail. I commuted in Miami by train, As I closed my working career in the DC area I used heavy rail. Maybe, now that the Governor is on board, there will be \ba train from here to Baton Rouge. This is by far not the first time this idea has been broached.

Gov. John Bel Edwards’ plan to alleviate traffic on Interstate 10 by providing a passenger train service between Baton Rouge and Sorrento could be headed off the rails. The first draft of Louisiana’s budget unveiled by House lawmakers earlier this week didn’t include the governor’s request to set aside $25 million in unspent federal pandemic aid to kick-start the route. Instead, lawmakers provided half that amount — $12.5 million — to finance the project in the state’s construction budget detailed in House Bill 2.  “It’s another thing the Legislature is a little misguided on right now with its priorities,” Edwards said Wednesday, before boarding a train in Baton Rouge to embark on a three-hour ride to New Orleans.

Republicans question the maturity of the plan, how mature is an idea the is used around the country. Pretty mature!

House Appropriations Chairman Jerome “Zee” Zeringue, R-Houma, questioned how “mature” the project is and said lawmakers “need more information until we fully fund it.” Edwards pitched the temporary service earlier this year as one of several ways to relieve congestion when construction gets underway next year on the widening of I-10 between Port Allen and the I-10/I-12 split.  Even without a massive construction project, I-10 is the site of daily backups, especially during morning and evening commute times. Once the project gets underway, the heavily traveled stretch will be trimmed from three lanes to two for months at a time, making congestion even worse. The passenger rail could offer commuters an alternative to that bumper-to-bumper traffic, but it won’t leave the station without support from state lawmakers.

The budget bills will be debated today, Thursday the 21st, and on one hand it is good they are doing something other than culture wars.

The budget bills, which will debated on the House floor Thursday, have a long way to go before they make it to the governor’s desk. Edwards said he doesn’t believe “that anything they’ve done is close to final,” adding that his administration is working with lawmakers to boost the funding. “At the end of the day, we’re not doing all that we can to assist with that congestion if we don’t have passenger rail moving as many people as possible and getting them off of I-10,” Edwards said. The long-held dream of passenger rail between Baton Rouge and New Orleans inched closer to fruition in December, when Canadian Pacific Railway began the process of acquiring Kansas City Southern and the tracks it owns between the two cities. Canadian Pacific executives told Edwards they are committed to working with state and local governments, passenger rail operator Amtrak and other interested parties to restart local passenger service as soon as possible, beginning with one round-trip per day between the two cities. But those trips can’t begin until federal regulators approve Canadian Pacific’s acquisition, which isn’t expected until late 2022.

The $25M the Governor is asking for is no more than seed money.

The $25 million Edwards requested from the Legislature is only a fraction of the estimated $260 million in improvements required to make the high-speed rail between Baton Rouge and New Orleans a reality. Edwards said funding from the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will help to fill that gap. Connecting New Orleans and Baton Rouge by rail would allow the two cities to “compete together” for economic opportunities instead of being in “competition with one another,” Edwards said. On his “inspection trip” Wednesday, Edwards was joined by chief executives from Kansas City Southern, Canadian Pacific and Amtrak.

There was train service up to 1969 so this is not a new idea.

A passenger train has not run between Baton Rouge and New Orleans since 1969, when Kansas City Southern’s Southern Belle service was discontinued. Restarting the service has the support of the public. A 2019 poll of voters in Ascension, East Baton Rouge, Jefferson, Orleans, St. James and St. John parishes found 63% would be interested in riding the line. “The desire has always been there, we just didn’t have the means,” Edwards said.

We saw in Virginia that housing tracts grew up beside the rail service. It is an environmental winner. Yes, I like trains.

Passenger train between here and Baton Rouge?