Transit Briefs: Amtrak, Louisiana Rail Project

Written by Carolina Worrell, Senior Editor
Amtrak photo

Amtrak photo

Amtrak launches “Amtrak Gives Back” community engagement program. Also, a New Orleans-Baton Rouge passenger rail line could be in the works.

Amtrak on Aug. 17 (National Nonprofit Day) launched its Amtrak Gives Back community engagement program, “focused on being a good neighbor and valuable partner to the communities it serves.”

Amtrak says it has supported worthwhile causes related to the company’s mission throughout its history and is looking to help non-profit organizations that are committed to the communities it serves across the country, including those that promote diversity and inclusion.

Through public outreach and engagement, the railroad says Amtrak Gives Back by:

  • Engaging with the community to help neighbors understand the scope, impacts and benefits of Amtrak projects, while also serving as a conduit for community feedback.
  • Supporting non-profit organizations through On Track for Good as well as through sponsorships and in-kind donations that align with Amtrak values, focus areas and business objectives.
  • Volunteering to lend a helping hand in the community. Amtrak continues to seek opportunities to build and strengthen partnerships to provide meaningful impact to communities, through employee volunteerism.”
Amtrak photo

“We are guided by our Values—Do the Right Thing, Put Customers First, and Excel Together—all clear expressions of our principles that align with the goals given to us by Congress,” said Amtrak CEO Stephen Gardner. “This program will help us meaningfully engage with communities while building lasting partnerships that benefit the nation.”

On Track for Good is one initiative in Amtrak Gives Back. Through this program, Amtrak says it is “supporting nationally recognized and local community-centered non-profit organizations with a limited number of complimentary trips, putting excess capacity to good use.”

“By launching Amtrak Gives Back, we have an incredible opportunity to serve our customers and communities with gratitude for how they’ve shown up for Amtrak over the past 50 years,” said Amtrak Senior Director of Community Engagement Danielle Hunter. “This initiative will increase exposure to sustainable rail transportation and mobilize our nation to provide more opportunities for growth and inclusion.”

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) unexpectedly told Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration that it could keep $20.5 million of the $32.5 million that the state was supposed to pay back following a deal with the Federal government to end a “long-winding and contentious battle over misspent grant money that was part of the Road Home program, aimed at helping victims of hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005,” as long as the state spent it to help people in parishes most impacted by the storms, according to a New Orleans Advocate report,

According to the report, Edwards’ administration has decided to spend that money on the long-planned but slow-moving New Orleans-Baton Rouge passenger rail line.

Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne said the state “needed to act quickly to spend the money,” and argued before lawmakers recently that the rail line—which is still years away—could eventually help evacuate some residents ahead of a storm, according to the New Orleans Advocate report.

“It was an unexpected amount of money the state got to spend as a result of HUD surprisingly telling us not to pay it,” Dardenne said in an interview. “It was an unexpected ability to put some additional money in rail service to make it a reality.”

Some Republicans in the Legislature—though they approved the move at a hearing last week—“are upset about the decision and say they should have been given an opportunity to evaluate projects that would better aid hurricane-prone parishes or beef up evacuations—which have long been a weak spot in southeast Louisiana’s hurricane preparedness,” according to the report.

Dardenne’s argument “sounds like a rationalization, a justification for a decision that was probably already made before it was presented publicly,” said State Rep. Jerome “Zee” Zeringue, a Houma Republican who chairs the Appropriations Committee.

“I’m not saying the rail (project) is good or bad,” Zeringue said. “But we missed an opportunity to evaluate and put this money towards a more meaningful project that would achieve the intended goal, which is to help the people in New Orleans, or improve evacuations.”

According to the New Orleans Advocate report, State Sen. Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton, said she thinks a project to widen a highway from Covington to her area north of that would be a better use of the funds.

“It just seems like a wiser use of the money when we already have a need for expanded traffic flow,” she said.

Tags: , , ,