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Federal rail group recommends daily passenger service along Gulf Coast

courtesy TeleSouth Communications Inc

A federally created study group has recommended to Congress that passenger rail service be returned to the eastern Gulf Coast corridor with two daily round-trip routes: New Orleans to Orlando and New Orleans to Mobile.

The Gulf Coast Working Group was formed largely due to the efforts of Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker. Its purpose was to study the feasibility of reestablishing passenger rail service from New Orleans to Orlando. During its 18-month study, the group suggested the addition of the New Orleans-Mobile line to assist day commuters.

“Returning passenger trains to the area will only help grow the tourism market that sustains us,” Biloxi Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich said. “We’re pleased that the Work Group supports the return of daily service, and also includes the possibility of a regular train between New Orleans and Mobile.”

Biloxi was represented on the Gulf Coast Working Group by F. Cliff Kirkland, Chief of Civic Innovation & Development. Kirkland invited the Work Group to Biloxi for the first site visit conducted during the study.

“From the beginning, everyone involved offered strong encouragement for bringing passenger rail service back to this area. But the challenge was to identify the best options for service and sources of funding,” Kirkland said. “We owe a debt of gratitude to Senator Wicker for his leadership in establishing the Work Group and in securing support across Congress.”

The final report was submitted earlier this month by the Working Group to the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation of the Senate and the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure of the House of Representatives.

The report anticipates federal and state funding, respectively, for the two new routes. The New Orleans to Orlando service would be via Amtrak, and would potentially be subsidized by the federal government. The New Orleans to Mobile route would be subsidized by Mississippi and Alabama, and possibly operated by Amtrak also.
Still to be worked out is how the new routes can be assimilated into the freight traffic on the CSX railroad. No fixed timetable is in place, though the earliest possible schedule for renewed service is in 2019.

Biloxi and its sister cities of Bay St. Louis, Gulfport and Pascagoula have been awarded Federal Railway Administration grants supported by the Southern Rail Commission. The matching grants will be used to build new platforms for the Amtrak service. Biloxi committed $250,000 to match its award of a $25,000 grant.

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