Railroad Relocation Project Gathers Steam

Some may call the idea a "pipe dream". But coast leaders are convinced a plan to relocate the CSX railroad tracks to a spot north of I-10 will become reality one day.

It's been talked about for years. But there's reason for renewed optimism, thanks to some federal money.

Moving the railroad tracks is a costly project. Some estimate it may cost up to a half billion dollars.

But coast leaders say the relocation is needed for economic development, transportation and safety reasons.

One of the biggest supporters of the project, also holds a key to future funding. That person is Senator Trent Lott.

Trains cut through the heart of the coast several times each day. But there is growing discussion about moving the tracks northward.

"Some people say that's thinking awfully big. That might cost 200 million, 250 million. Yes, and it might take some time. But if we don't begin now and we don't think with a vision for the future, it won't happen," said Senator Trent Lott.

Senator Lott recently secured four million dollars of Federal Highway Funds that M-DOT will use to take a closer look at moving the tracks.

The study will focus on environmental issues and the best possible route for an alternative track.

Jeff Taylor is with Gulf Regional Planning.

He says the study will address several issues.

"Between New Orleans and Mobile the possibility of a new high speed transportation corridor, which would be home to a freight line as well as high speed passenger. Now we're a long way from it, but just the fact the feds have now allocated some serious funding to take a look at it is a sure sign that we may be making progress."

Coast leaders and planners say there's no doubt moving the tracks makes good sense.

"It makes sense in every way. Economic development side, traffic safety. The number of automobile accidents and people who are killed each year is just phenomenal. Now we've got to make this happen," said Michael Olivier, who directs the Harrison County Development Commission.

Moving the tracks northward also opens new possibilities for much needed East-West roadways.

"That east-west where the railroad right of way is now could be an east-west corridor all the way through Mississippi to Louisiana and Alabama," said Biloxi mayor, A.J. Holloway.

The federally funded feasibility study could take two to three years.

There's no timetable for the project beyond that.