Travel & Tourism

Official says passenger rail service could be on Coast in 18 months

Community officials and members of the Southern Rail Commission meet on Monday, December 19, 2016, in Bay St. Louis.
Community officials and members of the Southern Rail Commission meet on Monday, December 19, 2016, in Bay St. Louis.

If things go right, Amtrak could return to the Coast as early as 18 months from now, an official said.

Southern Railway Commission officials announced at a meeting Monday it had received more than $1.15 million in federal funding for improvements and upgrades to Coast passenger platforms and depots along the railway line.

The larger goal for the commission and city officials is to pave the way for the return of an Amtrak rail service that would extend from New Orleans to Jacksonville, Florida, with stops along the Coast.

The project would require additional federal funding.

“Is it realistic to say this will be ready in 18 to 24 months? I think so,” Southern Railway Commission Chairman Gary White said at a Monday meeting.

John Robert Smith with the nonprofit Transportation for America said President-elect Donald Trump’s talk of a massive infrastructure project is a good sign his incoming administration might be interested in helping push funding for the project.

Trump also will oversee a Republican-controlled Congress.

“If Congress moves on some of the things he’s said — like these larger infrastructure plans — this project here is pocket change for what could be a multi-, multi-billion project,” he said.

Amtrak Government Affairs South District Senior Manager Todd Stennis prompted city officials to reach out to their state legislators to get the ball moving.

“It’s critical everyone in this room play a role. Our representatives need to hear from you how important this is. We all play a part,” Stennis said.

Coast officials, meanwhile, hailed the possible return of a passenger rail service.

“This is like Santa Claus coming to town,” said Gulfport Mayor Billy Hewes, who added that the city already has considered the financial cost of the project.

“This a great time for us, for our region, development-wise. This would be an economic development,” he said.

Pascagoula Councilwoman Brenda Simkins said her city will start work on their train station in January.

“This isn’t just good for us. If we have rail stops along the Coast, it’s a way for others to discover our region,” she said.

Justin Vicory: 228-896-2326, @justinvicory