FEMA Looks at Expanded Use of Trains in Hurricane Evacuations

February 13, 2008

The Federal Emergency Management Agency may expand the use of passenger trains to evacuate the sick and elderly in advance of hurricanes across the Gulf Coast, a FEMA official said.

Glenn Cannon, a FEMA assistant administrator, told a recent congressional subcommittee meeting in New Orleans that his agency is looking at passenger trains as a method of getting people out of harm’s way.

After Hurricane Katrina hit in August 2005, Amtrak was hired to be on hand to evacuate people with special needs if another disaster hit. Cannon said FEMA is now devising disaster plans for other Gulf Coast cities based on the New Orleans model.

“We’re changing our whole planning focus now from Louisiana-centric to Gulf Coast-centric,” Cannon told the subcommittee.

But, he said, turning railways into evacuation routes won’t be easy.

Rights of way for most railroads are privately owned by freight companies, and there is no congressional mandate to use railroads for evacuations. Also, the existing stock of passenger cars cannot accommodate evacuees unable to walk, he said.

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