Southern Rail Commission optimistic about passenger train

Southern Rail Commission optimistic about passenger train

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - The return of passenger train service along the Mississippi Gulf Coast looks promising. That's the word from leaders of the Southern Rail Commission, which met in Biloxi on Tuesday to discuss that ongoing project.

One commission member told a group of coast mayors and community leaders, "We have the best chance we've ever had to get this done."

Those who met say they're determined to make it happen.

Remember the enthusiastic support for the Amtrak test train along the coast this past February? Sen. Roger Wicker said that trip made quite a statement.

"Throngs and throngs of people that turned out, and I think they made a statement that the passenger ship will be there. That the public supports this concept, and we miss the opportunity to have rail service as part of the mix," Wicker told the Southern Rail Commission.

One of the hurdles these city and county leaders will face is the inevitable closing of more railroad crossings to accommodate the return of passenger train service.

"The possibility of the passenger train brings this to the forefront. You're going to have an 80 mph train running through there that you haven't had in 10 years, and you've got a lot more traffic running across some of these crossings," said Knox Ross, with the rail commission.

"You know your crossings. You know your traffic. You know your constituents. You know that one road where, oh, do we really have to close this crossing? Is there another one we can look at," said Katie Chimelewski, with CSX Railroad.

"You guys have the opportunity to come together on not just a corridor in your own county or your own city, but across the entire state," said Jacob Smith, with CSX.

Regular passenger trains haven't rolled along the tracks since before Hurricane Katrina, but several of the community leaders attending the rail commission meeting say they've got more momentum now than ever before to make this project a reality.

"We will figure out how to get over the hurdle. This is a group here today that is going to knock down the hurdles, and we're going to get this done. We are here to make this work," said Pascagoula Mayor Jim Blevins.

The next big step for the project is Aug. 11. That's when members of the Southern Rail Commission will meet with CSX officials to discuss capital expenditures and what must be done to the rail line to accommodate passenger train service between New Orleans, LA and Orlando, FL.

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