The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has designated two awards totaling over $230 million in funding for the restoration of passenger rail service along the Mississippi Gulf Coast and reestablishment of the Gloster Southern Railroad.
The first award will provide an estimated $178,435,333 for a passenger train route from Mobile, Ala., to New Orleans, La., which is expected to have four stops in Mississippi.
The second grant, which is approximately $52,000,000, will be used to reestablish freight rail service along a 35-mile segment of the Gloster Southern Railroad. The railroad first began providing shortline rail service from Gloster, Miss. to Slaughter, La. in 1986.
The two awards were made possible by yearly appropriations and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker helped negotiate as the lead Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee.
“This is a significant milestone, representing years of dedicated efforts to reconnect our communities after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina,” Wicker stated. “Restoring passenger rail service will create jobs, improve quality of life, and offer a convenient travel option for tourists, contributing to our region’s economic growth and vitality.”
Wicker has been an outspoken proponent for the reestablishment of passenger and freight rail services throughout Mississippi for years.
In 2015, Wicker led the effort to create and fund the Gulf Coast Working Group which provided a report with input from the Federal Railroad Administration, Amtrak, the Southern Rail Commission, CSX, and local communities along the proposed route.
Over the next few years, Wicker repeatedly pressed federal officials to commit to a series of safety and service improvements that would be necessary for Gulf Coast passenger rail service before sharing his support in a letter sent to the chairman of the Surface Transportation Board (STB).
The STB, which is an independent federal agency that oversees railroads, was considering a petition from Amtrak to restore service along the route.
Since then, Amtrak has made progress with other freight companies through numerous negotiations, all while acquiring federal funding needed to revitalize the service along the coast.
Now, the passenger rail service is anticipated to be complete in 2024, according to Southern Rail Commission (SRC) and Amtrak officials.
“The Southern Rail Commission is excited to see the years of work by all of our partners culminate in the CRISI grant award,” Southern Rail Commissioner Knox Ross said. “There are so many federal, state, and local leaders that have played indispensable roles in today’s announcement. We look forward to starting this service very soon and doing our part to keep the Mississippi Coast as a premiere vacation and business destination.”
At this time, Amtrak has also released plans to provide an additional route along Mississippi’s I-20 corridor, with the service expected to extend the Amtrak Crescent Train from Meridian, Miss., with stops across Louisiana and Texas.
“This has the potential to be the first new Amtrak service of its kind in more than 25 years and it would come in an area that has long been underserved by passenger rail,” Ross added. “Now that we have a way forward for new state-sponsored corridor service between New Orleans and Mobile, the I-20 route has been identified by the SRC as its next priority.”