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Home / News & Reviews / News Wire / Canadian Pacific commits to New Orleans-Baton Rouge passenger train if KCS merger is approved (updated)

Canadian Pacific commits to New Orleans-Baton Rouge passenger train if KCS merger is approved (updated)

By Bob Johnston | December 8, 2021

Louisiana governor says state DOT will pursue federal funding for rail infrastructure

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Amtrak train on track next to strip of grass
Amtrak train on track next to strip of grass
Amtrak’s southbound City of New Orleans passes through Kenner, La. Kansas City Southern has operating rights on this trackage, which could be used for New Orleans-Baton Rouge passenger service. This is a potential site for a station which would offer shuttle service to Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport; the airport’s control tower is visible just to the right of the locomotive. (Bob Johnston)

Head shot of man in suit and tie with glasses
James Clements, Canadian Pacific senior vice president, strategic planning and technology transformation. (Canadian Pacific)

NEW ORLEANS — A senior Canadian Pacific official told New Orleans and Baton Rouge, La., civic leaders on Wednesday that the railroad will permit a single passenger round trip between the two cities, without any infrastructure improvements, if CP’s merger with Kansas City Southern is approved by the Surface Transportation Board.

James Clements, Canadian Pacific’s senior vice president of Strategic Planning and Technology Transformation, did admit that at present, “it’s not a very fast …or high-capacity railroad, and that’s why we believe there are some upgrades needed for speed, in particular. Because there is not a lot of capacity, we’re just not confident that you could add a second [round trip] without significant impacts on passenger and freight.”

He adds, “We’re taking the capacity risk for the first train pair. We’re not seeking any capacity capital to be added onto the line [initially], but speed and safety improvements may need to be undertaken to make transit times attractive. Amtrak and other agencies may need to fund some improvements to ensure the right product. We’re always cognizant of supporting the needs of freight shippers in this area, but we’ve been able to successfully expand Amtrak service in other markets over time.”

Currently, the KCS bridge over the Bonnet Carre Spillway has a 10-mph limit, and Clements says CP has not assessed whether it can be improved or should be replaced. Signaling, highway crossing protection, rails, ties, and ballast improvements may also be needed. Station platforms compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act regulations would have to be constructed. A 2014 infrastructure report estimated the cost of needed improvements at $262 million, which would be about $306 million in 2021 dollars.

“You’re going to want to go at least 49 mph limit without signals versus the 10 and 25 mph,” Clements says. “It may need to be a little more robust than it is today for slow-speed freight train operation.”

The New Orleans-Baton Rouge route hasn’t had passenger service since late 1969, when KCS discontinued its last passenger train, the Southern Belle.

Vacant lot next to railroad track with "no trespassing" sign in foreground.
This lot in Gonzales, La., is a potential station site for New Orleans-Baton Rouge rail service on Kansas City Southern. (Bob Johnston)

Clements says CP and KCS must operate as separate railroads with their respective managements until the merger is approved by the Surface Transportation Board; the earliest that is likely to happen is in late 2022.

He says CP also intends to work with stakeholders looking to add passenger service from Meridian, Miss., west to Shreveport, La., and on to Dallas, “once the appropriate review is done. We’re going to be cooperative, not stand-offish in that area.” He notes, however that the merged CPKC would not fully control the Meridian Speedway route, a joint venture with Norfolk Southern.”

Following Clements’ presentation, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) said the state intends to partner with the federal government, Amtrak, and CP in taking advantage of funding opportunities in recently passed infrastructure legislation.

“There are investments that have to be made to ensure we are successful, but those pieces can come together; we’re going to have a concentrated effort,” says Edwards, “and I appreciate the effort of CP to start this dialogue. Louisiana continues to have discussions with federal partners about establishing rail service between New Orleans and Mobile, New Orleans and Baton Rouge, and initially across northern Louisiana. I believe this could be transformative for our state in so many ways.”

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell, in a Friday, Dec. 10, statement, said CP’s commitment “is a vital step forward in our continued push to link New Orleans by rail along the Gulf South. This critical connection will expand regional transportation and employment opportunities, and can provide an additional mode of evacuation from forecasted storms, giving residents immediate transit service out of harm’s way in the event of an emergency. This is a win-win for our entire region, connecting communities through transformative infrastructure projects and by improving public safety as we continue to experience faster, more intense storms.”

— Updated at 4:40 p.m. on Dec. 11 with statement from New Orleans’ mayor.

13 thoughts on “Canadian Pacific commits to New Orleans-Baton Rouge passenger train if KCS merger is approved (updated)

  1. It’s nice to see that CP is interested in trying to help expand passenger train service without excessive upgrades. He did make realistic statements on what should be done to see that any route expansion could be successful. With well thought out cost effective improvements it would help improve both freight and passenger service over the route.

  2. Google drive times mean nothing on this route, because traffic in Baton Rouge is notoriously terrible and unpredictable. Right now it says 80 minutes.

    The problem is the 4 lane single bridge (which is very narrow so if there’s an accident all bets are off) over the river in downtown BR. It can easily take 45 minutes or more to get across the bridge.

    It’s 75 miles but you have to budget two hours to make the trip by car.

  3. Good to see some mutual cooperation.. should be a condition for any RR receiving any of the Infrastructure money from the taxpayers.

  4. Question on the “Meridian Speedway” …… How “speedy” is it. What would be the travel time of a passenger train from Atlanta to Dallas?

    As for NOLA to BR, a schlepediche train pair a day is hardly a corridor. CPKC is offering a train pair a day on a lightly used slow speed line. Or else the public pays to rebuild the line. Cooperation of a freight railroad with Amtrak is lovely but only goes so far.

    1. Charles – “Schlepediche.” Excellent adjective. I commend you on your command of colorful English. Must be Milwaukee jargon.

      1. East Coast yiddish. I borrowed this line from a Jewish Queensboro – native college friend who described the Cleveland subway as “the most schlepediche train in America”.

  5. Missouri Pacific offered two daily passenger trains between New Orleans and Houston via Baton Rouge. ‘The Orleanian’ ran during the day with a diner and a through Pullman sleeper to the bay area across from San Francisco and ‘The Houstonian’ ran overnight.
    My maternal grandmother and I travelled on one of these trains from New Orleans to Houston before the Jenx era when the decline of passenger service was exacerbated and most cars and locomotives were painted a bland solid blue, abandoning the classic paint scheme designed by Raymond Loewy.

  6. Sounds like Edwards wants to spend money to buy votes and CP wants merger approval. If you can drive from somewhere in either city to the train station you can drive to you destination in the other city more easily, cheaply and conveniently than the train service would ever be.

  7. Re: Cheaply & conveniently = compliments of all taxpayers not the drivers who haven’t seen an increase in the federal gas tax since Bill Clinton was president they want to drive but don’t want to pay for it, yet the opposite is expected of rail & transit users.

  8. Obviously one round trip a day at slow speed does not make a corridor. But it’s nice that CP is opening the door. Unlike CSX which seems opposed to everything unless somebody hands them a big bag of cash.

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