By T. Scott Boatright
I-20 Corridor Commission member Christina Anderson of Marshall, Texas, appeared before Grambling City’s Council during Thursday night’s Council to update aldermen on the potential of passenger rail service running through the city in years to come.
“Many of you are new City Council members, and that’s why I’m here to give you this update,” Anderson said. “This project has been going on for many years and I want you to know that Grambling,Grambling State University, the city of Ruston and Mayor (Ronny) Walker) have all long been early and strong supporters of this I-20 Corridor project.
“In the past we were sharing what the vision of this I-20 Corridor is, But now things are moving along thanks to the bipartisan infrastructure bill, so we have some good news to share with you.”
The I-20 Corridor Council was formed to re-establish passenger rail service along the Interstate 20 Corridor, connecting Fort Worth, Texas to Atlanta, running through northeast Texas, northern Louisiana, and Central Mississippi, and also connecting to Washington, D.C., and New York City through Atlanta.
The efforts in support of the route started in 2004 and gained momentum in 2007 with the assistance of renewed grassroots volunteer efforts and federal grant funding.
Originally designated as the East Texas Corridor Council, and then the Ark-La-Tex Corridor Council, grassroots efforts expanded the original vision and a multi-state coalition grew to include Louisiana and states eastward.
“That includes service in Grambling and Ruston,” Anderson said. “As you know, we have no service at this point, so this is something we care about very much.”
Anderson said the passenger rail service would be added between Marshall, Texas to Meridian, Mississippi, a stretch of railway where passenger rail service currently doesn’t exist.
“Councils of government have played big roles in this initiative,” Anderson said. “All of you as elected officials know that transportation projects can take a long time. This one has taken quite some time, but we’re coming into the home stretch.”
Anderson said the capacity feasibility studies have shown that adding passenger rail service along the corridor would not negatively impact freight traveling along the railway.
“That’s very important because except for the northeast corridor, we would have to share the railway with freight travel,” Anderson said.
Anderson said the original study would have to be updated because the original said it would take $80 million to complete Amtrak passenger rail between Atlanta and Dallas/Fort Worth.
“That $80 million was in terms of 2017 dollars, and we all know those dollars aren’t the same these days,” Anderson said. “So they will be updating those studies to see what the costs would be.”
Anderson pointed out that the I-20 Corridor is an education corridor connecting numerous universities via rail, including more than 20 Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
“So this would connect many outstanding colleges and universities, and we all know how important it is to have viable travel options for college students to get to school,” Anderson said.
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) (Pub. L. 117-58), also known as the “Bipartisan Infrastructure Law,” includes $102 billion in total rail funding, including $66 billion from advanced appropriations, and $36 billion in authorized funding.
On April 21, Amtrak and the Southern Rail Commission (SRC) submitted an application for the Federal-State Partnership for Intercity Passenger Rail (Fed-State) program to study the corridor and plan for future service.
“So where we were in years before when I would speak to people in Grambling was to share the vision of what this route could do,” Anderson said. “Now that we have funding from the federal government, it’s a viable possibility that we can push it over the goal line.
“We have to continue to work, but we actually have funding available that could change lives in these areas and other rural communities.”