Thomas Stennis

Thomas Stennis, government affairs director with Amtrak, told those in attendance at Tuesday’s Amtrak meeting that Live Oak is No. 1 on the radar for a stop if the line is reestablished.

LIVE OAK — Amtrak officials, along with a representative for Senator Bill Nelson, stopped by Live Oak on Tuesday to reassure that the city is at the top of the list of cities being considered for a potential Amtrak stop.

The problem, however, is whether or not the rail between Louisiana and Jacksonville will even happen.

“Once we get the train back, then we can evaluate where there are opportunities to look at other stations,” said Thomas Stennis, government affairs director with Amtrak. “I can tell you this, you guys are number one on that list.”

Congress must decide whether the rail line is reestablished and feasible for passenger travel.

The Gulf Coast Working Group was made by an act of Congress and is just about finished with its report on the rail. The report is going to indicate what it will take, in terms of investment into CSX’s railroad, to put service back in this part of the country.

CSX Corporation, together with its subsidiaries based in Jacksonville, is one of the nation's leading transportation suppliers. Overall, the CSX Transportation network encompasses about 21,000 route miles of track in 23 states, the District of Columbia and the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec, according to its website.

After the report is released, said Marc Magliari, a spokesman for Amtrak, they can begin taking those numbers to people in Congress and the state.

Then we can “say, here’s what it takes, here’s what a great idea it is and here’s how we can get going to work on it,” Magliari said. “We’re going to update people here today on where we are in that process.”

If everything goes well, Magliari said, Amtrak is still a year or two away from having a stop in Live Oak. There are many things that need to happen, as far as capital improvement goes, before a train can come through the city, he said.

For the time being, what the people of Live Oak can do to help is call their congressional representative and the governor and tell them how important it is for a rail to come through Live Oak, said Knox Ross, secretary for Southern Rail Commission.

He said this is a fractured time in politics, but the railroad is a bipartisan issue. To prove his point, two men in the audience shared their story of using Amtrak to see inaugurations in Washington.

Layne Schultetus and his wife Chris Summerlin took Amtrak to see President Donald Trump’s inauguration, and Fred Gainous and his wife Beverlyn took Amtrak to see President Barack Obama’s inauguration.

“If that’s not any more bipartisan than I don’t know what is,” Ross said. “They’re even sitting right next to each other.”

At the end of the event, one thing was clear: Live Oak wants an Amtrak stop, and Amtrak needs Live Oak’s help to get the rail back up and running. Ross pointed out that cities like Live Oak overwhelmingly voted for Trump, so they need to tell him how important a stop would be.

However, as it was pointed out during the event, if Trump’s budget proposal is approved by Congress, all funding for rail improvement will be cut off, making it impossible for Amtrak to put a stop anywhere.

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