Getting Port of Gulfport cargo onto railroad tracks and up to Hattiesburg could create a variety of new business opportunities for Don Allee's port.
"We've got to have rail service that is competitive with the other ports in the Gulf of Mexico," said Allee.
In 2001, the state legislature understood that need. That's when it approved a $40 million plan that would improve the tracks north of the port.
But a problem has surfaced. Kansas City Southern owns the tracks. It also controls tracks in New Orleans and Mobile.
At Wednesday's "State of the Coast Economy" presentation, Harrison County Development Director Mike Olivier said Kansas City Southern and its new partner Canadian National just made a big investment in the Mobile line.
"Which leaves less likelihood that they're going to be willing to improve the Kansas City Southern rail from here to Hattiesburg," Olivier said.
Kansas City Southern is working with the Port of Gulfport on alternatives. The port could buy the rail line. Or it could become partners with KCS.
"I'm optimistic that there is a way to get to our final goal," Allee said, "which is an elevated level of service of rail into and out of the Port of Gulfport."
Kansas City Southern sent a statement to WLOX News. It said, "Kansas City Southern continues to have an interest in upgrading its rail line between Hattiesburg and Gulfport to accommodate the Port of Gulfport's needs in the future. However, that upgrade will need to be some sort of joint venture between the railroad and the state. Kansas City Southern does not now and has not previously been interested in selling the line. We look forward to working in partnership with the State of Mississippi to upgrade the line to meet the Port's needs in the future."