A passenger train linking New Orleans and Baton Rouge on existing freight tracks, with stops in between, could begin twice daily trips, ultimately growing to regular service with a possible station near the New Orleans International Airport, according to a study by HNTB Corporation for regional transit organizations and mayors.
Consultants envision a convenient alternative for the 1.4 million people who live in the booming parishes along the rail line. A passenger train service would allow riders to work during commutes, offer an evacuation route during hurricanes, especially to Baton Rouge hospitals, and supply easy connections to events such as LSU and Saints football games, Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest.
"For as long as the I-10 has connected New Orleans and Baton Rouge, many have wondered if passenger rail could as well," says New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu. "By working with a broad coalition of partners, this feasibility study shows that passenger rail in south Louisiana is possible. Passenger rail will cut travel time, reduce congestion, attract economic development for the entire region, create new jobs, and unite two great cities. Smart, reliable transportation is essential to building a stronger Louisiana."
Capital investment for starting the service would be $262 million, with federal funds underwriting up to 80% of the amount. Startup costs are less than the $448 million estimated in a 2010 study for the state.. HNTB also advises leasing trains instead of purchasing them to reduce upfront capital costs
Existing rail infrastructure owned by Kanas City Southern and Canadian National would be improved to provide for safer movement of cargo and passengers along the 80-mile corridor.
Crossings would be upgraded and rail lines doubled in some sections to allow freight and passenger trains to move efficiently on the same lines. Many bridges would be strengthened or replaced so trains could travel at higher speeds. Replacing the 1.8-mile wooden rail bridge across the Bonnet Carre Spillway, where trains now crawl at 10 miles per hour, is the largest capital cost at $62.1 million.
HNTB performed the study for the Capital Region Planning Commission, the New Orleans Regional Planning Commission and the Baton Rouge Area Foundation.
The recommended startup service would operate twice daily between the downtowns of Baton Rouge and New Orleans, a trip that would take one hour and 35 minutes with seven stops on the route. A morning and afternoon train for commuters would start in each of the two cities on similar schedules.
HNTB met with civic and elected officials along the line to site potential train stations. Recommended stations would be at Government Street at South 14th Street near downtown Baton Rouge, at the medical corridor on Essen Lane, at East Cornerview Street near Gonzales City Hall, west of Main Street in LaPlace, adjacent to the Louis Armstrong International Airport in Kenner, at Zephyr Field in Jefferson Parish and the Union Passenger Terminal station near the Superdome, where passengers can access the Loyola Avenue streetcar and other transit options.
Twice daily service would produce estimated ridership of 210,000 in the first year, HNTB says. Fares could be as low as $10 each way.