Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development is moving forward with a Rail Feasibility Study (RFS) that would pave the way for Amtrak to cross north Louisiana, connecting Texas to Mississippi.
DOTD Secretary Sherrie LeBas told a contingency from northwest Louisiana that she is ready to move forward on the RFS using $250,000 in funding secured by state Rep. Roy Burrell of Shreveport with the help of Rep. Katrina Jackson of Monroe.
"I am very excited about the progress we have made so far," Burrell said. "Although we still have a ways to go, we are on the right track. If all goes well, passenger rail service can be a reality in two to five years – another victory for Shreveport-Bossier and all of north Louisiana," said Burrell.
While members of the Minden City Council and Webster Parish Police Jury passed resolutions in support of Amtrak, by using existing Kansas City Southern (KCS) railroad tracks, the corridor will take travelers south of Minden through Sibley.
According to Sibley Mayor Jimmy Williams, his town will probably be a blur to Amtrak passengers.
"Their big thing is speed," Williams said of Amtrak. "That's how they make their money. KCS trains come through here at 59 miles per hour. I'm sure Amtrak will be at least that fast."
Williams said KCS claims to run 50 trains a day on the tracks that run under Sibley's bridge.
"How are they going to use Amtrak on a track that KCS has already gotten up to their potential?" he asked "I don't know about feasibility. If they put another track in, that will cost a lot of money."
Even though they support the Amtrak idea, Williams and Minden Mayor Tommy Davis are still waiting for someone to show them a direct economical benefit for this area.
"My understanding is, it will run from east Texas to Meridian, and when you get to Meridian, you can take a north/south direction," Davis said. "I don't believe they would get off the main track and come through Minden."
Max LeCompte, President and CEO of The Coordinating and Development Corporation, said the passenger rail line will extend from Longview through Shreveport-Bossier to Vicksburg and Meridian, Mississippi. Then passengers will have service to Atlanta, Georgia and from there, the east coast, and in the other direction, all the way to the Pacific.
"If they have a stop in Shreveport, they probably won't have one in Sibley," Williams pointed out. "They probably wouldn't have one until they get to Ruston or Monroe."
Burrell said initial funding for the extension was eliminated from the state's Capital Outlay budget and redirected to be paid from federal highway dollars. The request for qualifications was issued by Northwest Louisiana Council of Governments (NLCOG) on November 20, and proposals are due back to the Metropolitan Planning Organization Transportation Policy Committee by Friday, December 20. NLCOG is encouraging a Fair Share goal of 15 percent, including a disadvantage business enterprise goal of 10 percent.