BILOXI, Miss. (WLOX) - Passenger rail service is set to make a comeback on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Amtrak is moving ahead with plans to begin service next year from New Orleans to Mobile with stops in Bay St. Louis, Gulfport, Biloxi and Pascagoula.
A company official says Amtrak passenger service along the Gulf Coast is on track to return in 2022 — and could come in the early part of next year.
WLOX spoke with Knox Ross, the chair of the Mississippi Southern Rail Commission, on Wednesday. Ross said it’s exciting news for the Mississippi Gulf Coast but there is still some work to be done.
“We’ve been working hard since 2016, since the inspection, we’ve been working to secure funding, working hard to get station stops ready in Mississippi,” said Ross. “Now, Amtrak has been working with host railroads to do this, and they’re far along enough with that to say they intend to bring the trains back in 2022. We don’t know exactly when that will happen or how that will happen yet, but they’ve announced their intention to do so and we’re very excited about that.”
The route will connect Mobile, Alabama to New Orleans, with four stops in Mississippi: Bay St. Louis, Gulfport, Biloxi, and Pascagoula, before the passenger rail service can resume on the Coast, there is still some work that needs to be done.
“We’ll be working on schedules, improvements that have to be made to the infrastructure,” saids Ross. “We’ll be working on the station stops themselves, the platforms and so forth to get them ADA accessible.”
With passenger rail service able to make stops in South Mississippi, city leaders on the Coast say they are hopeful this will bring in new people and new business.
Ross agrees, saying he anticipates a great impact for the tourism industry, restaurants, and other businesses.
“I think it’s going to be tremendous. We sponsored a study from USM that indicated a tremendous impact both in tourism and business for the Coast,” said Ross. “This opens up the mic to the foreign tourism of New Orleans... the fastest growing foreign tourist trade in the world in New Orleans. It opens up so many more people to the Coast. It makes the Coast a day destination for people from Mobile and New Orleans. We think it’s going to be a tremendous boost.”
While a definitive date hasn’t been set for the trains to once again roll on the Gulf Coast, Amtrak announcing that it will happen next year is still something to look forward to.
“There’s still a lot of unknowns and variables, but the biggest difference now is Amtrak is saying, ‘We’re going to do it. The trains are going to run, and we intend to run it in 2022,’” said Ross.
This will mark the first time that passenger trains have rolled along the Gulf Coast in more than 16 years.
The Southern Rail Commission SRC released the following statement today in response to Amtrak’s confirmation of reports it intends to begin passenger rail service between New Orleans and Mobile in 2022:
“Having worked tirelessly with federal, state, and local officials on this project, we are thrilled that a departure time is in sight for passenger rail service on the Gulf Coast,” said Wiley Blankenship, Chairman of the SRC. “Since the 2016 inspection train, which brought out thousands of citizens across the Gulf Coast demonstrating enthusiastic support for passenger rail, this is one of the major milestones we have been working toward. While additional work needs to be done to address the concerns of the Port of Mobile before service can start, Amtrak service will provide a much-needed shot in the arm for local economies still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic and multiple extreme weather events.”
The SRC has been successful in securing multiple federal grants to enable the Amtrak trains to start next year, including full federal support of operating costs for the first year of service and continued federal support in the second and third year totaling $11.2 million, as well as a federal grant and local matching funds for improvements to area railroad infrastructure for passenger and freight service totaling $66 million. Cities along the route have also received $2 million in funds for planning, upgrading, and constructing their rail stations.