What’s Train Travel Like in Louisiana?

The only operator of regularly-scheduled passenger trains in Louisiana is Amtrak. Amtrak is the quasi-public corporation created by Congress back in the early 1970s to take over the money-losing passenger trains from the private railroads. Amtrak charges market-based fares for its services, and then the federal government provides funding to help pay for some of the cost of operating the trains. Louisiana does not contribute anything toward the operation of Amtrak trains in the state.

Louisiana Amtrak trains are comfortable with good onboard services. The coach seats are roomy (like first class airline seats) with leg rests that go from the seat all the way to the floor. The first class service consists of beds in small private rooms, some with showers and enclosed toilets. The trains have lounge cars where drinks, snacks, and light meals are sold, and they also have dining cars where full-service meals are provided. Generally speaking, a journey on Amtrak will be quite pleasant and relaxing with clean, well-maintained trains, and their onboard employees are nearly always courteous and helpful.

Amtrak operates as a tenant on the freight railroads, and in Louisiana Amtrak does not own the track or dispatch the trains. Louisiana Amtrak trains move quickly with a 79 mph top speed, but the actual average speed will be lower than 79 mph because of congestion and other operating restrictions. Amtrak pays the railroads rent and also a bonus for running their trains on time, and Louisiana Amtrak trains generally operate anywhere between 50% to 80% on time. Sometimes lateness is caused by Amtrak, but most of the time late trains are because of freight train interference. Most railroads run lots of freight trains over long sections of single track with occasional passing sidings, and Amtrak shares track space with the private company’s freight trains. Amtrak is supposed to have priority (by law), but many times the freight railroads will become congested.

Louisiana Amtrak trains could benefit from investment in more double track and longer passing sidings, but Congress hasn’t funded Amtrak to allow for these improvements and Louisiana has shown little/no interest as well. States that are progressive about their Amtrak services have made strategic investments that have significantly improved the operation of their trains both in reduced running times and better ontime performance, and the result has been vastly improved ridership.