The University of New Orleans is set to play a major role in setting the course for the future of rail transportation infrastructure across Louisiana. Bethany Stich, director of the University of New Orleans Transportation Institute, was awarded $150,000 by the Louisiana Transportation Research Center (LTRC) to conduct an analysis of passenger and freight rail systems that will be used to guide future investments.
“Understanding how to best incorporate rail infrastructure into the state’s multimodal transportation system requires a unified vision with common goals. This research will ascertain the current state of rail in Louisiana and offer benefit/cost analyses of system expansion,” Stich explained. “The study will inform the work of state transportation planners by exploring economic development opportunities and identifying key corridors for investment. It will also show us where we should focus on mitigating safety concerns and rail traffic congestion.”
Louisiana’s freight rail transportation services provide essential support for the petrochemical industry and others, generating a total economic output of $13 billion. According to Stich, more rail transport availability can provide cost and logistical advantages to Louisiana firms and enable the state to increase its competitiveness in the global marketplace. In rural areas, she says, potential growth in manufacturing, agriculture and local industries can be realized through a connection by railroads to major urban areas. In addition to freight rail’s critical role in economic growth, passenger rail infrastructure offers a choice in transportation. It serves as an alternative to cars and trucks that relieves congestion, increases safety and reduces fuel consumption, Stich said.
The Louisiana rail system covers a total of 2,730 route miles. It is operated by six large railroads and 14 smaller local, switching, and terminal railroads. Passenger rail service includes three long-distance Amtrak trains: the City of New Orleans, operating between New Orleans and Chicago; the Crescent, operating between New Orleans and New York; and the Sunset Limited, operating between Los Angeles and New Orleans. Stich notes that these systems are facing some challenges, such as a lack of connectedness to other modes of transportation, that make rail less attractive than it could be. The Louisiana Transportation Research Center will use the system analysis to develop a plan to expand transportation efficiency, cost effectiveness, accessibility and capacity. The ultimate goal is a safer, more reliable and balanced transportation system for Louisiana that contributes to improved mobility for people and goods, economic growth and resource conservation.
The Louisiana Transportation Research Center conducts short- and long-term research and provides technology assistance, engineering training and continuing education, technology transfer and problem-solving services to the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development and others in the transportation community. The center’s goal is to merge the resources of state government and universities to identify, develop and implement new technology to improve the state's transportation system.
The University of New Orleans Transportation Institute (UNOTI) offers research, professional outreach and education programs, including master’s degrees in transportation, urban and regional planning, and urban studies. The institute’s core expertise includes policy for sustainable, resilient and safe transport systems, specifically relating to maritime and port planning, transit planning, walking, bicycling and transit-oriented development. Faculty, staff and students at UNOTI are leaders in creating a sustainable transportation system, including all modes of passenger and freight transportation.