New Amtrak study shows possibilities of service along the Coast

Published: Jan. 15, 2016 at 8:40 PM CST|Updated: Jan. 15, 2016 at 10:27 PM CST
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GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - The thought that there could be new passenger train stops on the Mississippi Gulf Coast has Southern Rail Commission member Ashley Edwards excited.

"This is an excellent first step. With a 10-year window there without any passenger rail service, we now have a number of people around the table talking about the return of this rail service," he said. "These are very serious conversations occurring at the highest levels."

A recently released study by Amtrak, which was requested by the Southern Rail Commission, talks about the possibility of connecting New Orleans to Orlando, FL, via the Sun Set Limited that originally began service in 1984.

The study offers several service options. The premium service connects New Orleans to Orlando. Amtrak says it will generate ridership of 153,000 passengers and an annual funding commitment of $9.5 million.

Other alternatives offer lower ridership numbers, shorter distances, and fewer funding commitments.

Edwards, who is also the director of the Gulf Coast Business Council, said it would be good for tourism and business commuters.

"Hopefully what we'll find is that the infrastructure investment required is actually very small as compared to the economic impact that can occur with the return of rail service."

Gulfport Mayor Billy Hewes likes the idea, but said Amtrak needs to deal with chronic departure and arrival problems that plagued the service.

And then there's the money.

"But the funding is always the key," he said. "And most of the funding - there may be some hope that there would be some local or state funding - but I really think it's going to have to be carried by the federal government as they've always traditionally funded Amtrak."

It's something Pat Bittinger of Gulfport wants.

"I think people are looking for another mode of transportation," she said. "With traffic the way it is, it would be kind of neat to just sit back and let somebody else do the 'driving.'"

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