Recently, part of the Sunset East Route between Pensacola and Jacksonville was sold by CSX to RailUSA-owned Florida Gulf & Atlantic Railroad.
Just when railfans were trying to figure out what the sale meant for the odds of passenger service being restored, Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker announced that service will return to the western portion of the Sunset East Route between New Orleans and Mobile.
The catch is right there: Only the CSX portion of the Sunset East is involved. It would be up to FG&A to restore the easternmost portion and even then, there would still be a gap between Mobile and Pensacola because neither Alabama nor Florida has shown an interest in restoring passenger service. If only the affected states (Louisiana, which is also paying for the restored service, is the fourth state involved) had actually talked to SNCF, that portion of the country would already have some kind of passenger service. After all, it was Virgin's interest in a Charlotte-Atlanta route for example that forced Amtrak to look at that same area for expansion earlier this year. Had SNCF tapped Keolis to run the 620-mile route, it may have motivated Amtrak management to at least restore the Sunset Limited or produce an entirely new route.
So, what we'll end up with is a third incarnation of the Gulf Coast Limited--the first one ran in the mid 1980s and the second one ran in from mid 1996 to mid 1997. The second version didn't even operate on a flipped schedule vis-à-vis the Sunset Limited--Train #24 operated about two hours earlier than #2 while #23 operated 2-3 hours earlier than #1. That said, an opportunity arises where dueling roundtrips could provide consistent ridership. Not to mention, a revived Gulf Breeze that is extended to the Crescent City should also be on the table after 2021.