Yesterday, the Sunset Marketing and Revitalization Team (SMART) held its first formal meeting at New Orleans’ Union Passenger Rail Terminal. Formed last year, the grassroots passenger-rail advocacy group aims to improve and expand passenger-rail service along the Gulf Coast. The organization is patterned after the Texas Eagle Marketing and Performance Organization, which was formed a decade ago to restore and improve Amtrak’s Texas Eagle service.
SMART’s first mission: to get Amtrak to reinstate Sunset Limited service from New Orleans to Orlando. In 2005, Amtrak truncated the route, which originally ran from Los Angeles to Orlando, at New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. The railroad didn’t resume service to Orlando after the lines were restored by CSX Transportation.
“Today’s trackage is superior to what existed pre-Katrina, and demand [is] high, yet Amtrak has not restored the service,” said Matthew Melzer, communications associate for SMART founding member the National Association of Railroad Passengers, in a prepared statement.
In fiscal-year 2007, Sunset Limited ridership was up 22.1 percent. Prior to Hurricane Katrina, the New Orleans-to-Orlando segment accounted for 28 percent of the route’s miles, but 39 percent of ridership and 41 percent of revenue.