Amtrak plans on fast track with multi-state task force

Amtrak plans on fast track with multi-state task force

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - In February, Amtrak fans gathered from Bay St. Louis to Pascagoula to celebrate the possibility of passenger rail service may return to the Coast.

The serious work has begun, and the service is on the fast track for development. A multi-state work group hammered out details in Biloxi with a sense of urgency on Wednesday.

"I have to believe that these communities are really looking forward to having this train return," said Amtrak's Mark Murphy. "I'm an optimist, sir. I want to tell you it's a 100 percent, but we have a lot of work that still has to be done."

Murphy is one of more than 20 members of the task force, including the Federal Rail Administration, Southern Rail Commission, CSX and other stakeholders in the four states of the proposed service.

The group is doing all the legwork when it comes to Amtrak, including alternative funding sources. If a city wants to get involved, it'll have everything it needs to know in black and white.

"We know that's going to be a big question of a lot of cities along the route," said Ashley Edwards, member of the Southern Rail Commission, and director of the Gulf Coast Business Council. "They're going to want to ask us how can we make sure that we are a part of this service. We want to make sure we have those answers."

Jay Westbrook with CSX is studying how to make good dance partners of Amtrak service and freight trains, and to eliminate delays that are normal among freight.

"If you're a passenger on a passenger train, that's not acceptable to you," Westbrook said. "You don't want to be inconvenienced pulling over to the side and waiting 10, 15, 20 minutes. It really is exciting that everyone is at the table that can make a difference and work together to resolve issues before they become roadblocks."

The group will continue meeting for another five to six months and plans to have the details hammered out for Congress in the fall.

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