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Former governor, two local ports pen letters of support for restoration of passenger rail service along Gulf Coast

In Ocean Springs, city leaders are considering a show of support for the Amtrak service.
In Ocean Springs, city leaders are considering a show of support for the Amtrak service.
Updated: Apr. 26, 2021 at 8:37 PM CDT
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SOUTH MISSISSIPPI (WLOX) - The push to bring passenger rail service through South Mississippi just got endorsements from four new voices.

The U.S. Surface Transportation Board received four letters of support for a favorable ruling of Amtrak’s petition to start passenger rail service next year.

Former Gov. Phil Bryant, the Port of Gulfport, and the Port of Pascagoula joined the Southern Rail Commission in supporting Amtrak to begin running two daily trains between New Orleans and Mobile starting in 2022. Amtrak filed a petition before the Surface Transportation Board to require CSX Transportation and Norfolk Southern Railway to allow the operation.

In his letter, Bryant noted that passenger rail service hasn’t run since Hurricane Katrina and that restoring the service would mark “huge strides our state has made to recover from Katrina. Reconnecting the Gulf Coast to our nation’s passenger rail network can also help revive the coastal economy as it emerges from the pandemic – attracting tourists, facilitating business travel, providing a safe alternative to highway travel, and improving the overall quality of life in Mississippi.”

The ports of Gulfport and Pascagoula, two of four cities that would have stops in South Mississippi, both expressed the belief that passenger and cargo service could coexist on the rails, with Gulfport specifying that the Mississippi State Port Authority “does not foresee the return of passenger service having a negative impact on the movement of cargo in and out of the Port of Gulfport.” The Port of Pascagoula actually modified the design of its 2015 rail relocation project in order to reduce congestion on CSX lines.

You can read the full text of the letters from Bryant, the Port of Gulfport and the Port of Pascagoula below:

“Since 2005, Mississippi residents have worked to recover from Hurricane Katrina, one of the strongest storms on record. This storm devastated the entire Gulf Coast region and impaired local rail infrastructure, resulting in a halt to passenger rail service. In the years since then, residents have worked alongside local, state, and federal officials to see passenger rail service restored to the Mississippi Gulf Coast. I applaud Amtrak for filing its petition to the Surface Transportation Board (STB) to permit the use of freight rail infrastructure for twice-daily passenger service between New Orleans and Mobile, with stops in Bay St. Louis, Gulfport, Biloxi, and Pascagoula. For Mississippi, restoring passenger rail service is a symbol of the huge strides our state has made to recover from Katrina. Reconnecting the Gulf Coast to our nation’s passenger rail network can also help revive the coastal economy as it emerges from the pandemic – attracting tourists, facilitating business travel, providing a safe alternative to highway travel, and improving the overall quality of life in Mississippi. Passenger rail is an essential and permanent part of our national transportation network. Amtrak has the right to access the necessary freight rail infrastructure, and Mississippi residents deserve to benefit from passenger rail service. Amtrak is prepared to begin operating two daily trains on the Gulf Coast route beginning in 2022. I hope STB will look favorably on Amtrak’s request.”

“Restoration of passenger rail service terminated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 has seen residents working alongside local, state, and federal officials to help restore the Mississippi Coast’s economy. Twice - daily passenger service between New Orleans and Mobile, with stops in Bay St. Louis, Gulfport, Biloxi, and Pascagoula utilizing freight rail infrastructure, can attract tourists, facilitate business travel, provide a safe alternative to the highway, and improve quality of life in South Mississippi. To assist in this effort, the Port of Pascagoula modified the design of our 2015 rail relocation project to move the MS Export RR/CSX interchange off the CSX mainline, thereby reducing congestion on it. Without being able to address the other segments of the proposed route, we feel that passenger and freight rail can coexist in Pascagoula and hope STB will look favorably on AMTRAK’S request.”

“The Mississippi State Port Authority (“MSP A”) wishes to express its support of Amtrak using freight rail infrastructure for passenger service between New Orleans and Mobile. The intermediary stops in Bay Saint Louis, Gulfport, Biloxi and Pascagoula, will increase tourism and revenue, which will ultimately improve the local economy and help revitalize these communities, all of which were devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The MSP A is an agency of the State of Mississippi that owns and operates a deep-water port located in Gulfport, Mississippi. The MSP A specializes in the importation and exportation of containerized, bulk, Ro-Ro, project and break-bulk cargo. In addition to its port operations, the MSP A serves as an economic development partner for the region. Improving the local economy and the quality of life of South Mississippians are important goals of the MSP A. The MSP A does not foresee the return of passenger service having a negative impact on the movement of cargo in and out of the Port of Gulfport. In regard to Port of Gulfport operations, we believe that passenger and freight rail can coexist and hope the Surface Transportation Board will look favorably upon Amtrak’s request.”

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