For the first time since Hurricane Katrina, a passenger train will make stops along the Coast.
For now, Thursday's run is a one-off trip to assess the CSX rails and the interest in restoring passenger rail service along the northern Gulf of Mexico and into central Florida. But officials along the Coast are definitely on board.
"I want to see this be a huge event for Biloxi," Biloxi Mayor Andrew "FoFo" Gilich said in an email. "This is a great opportunity to showcase our stop, the multi-modal transit center already in place, with easy access to thousands of hotel rooms, a half-dozen casinos resorts, and MGM Park all nearby. We have all of the pieces in place, and now is our opportunity to show how we're ready for daily passenger train service."
Just days before the tour, Sen. Roger Wicker's office announced the creation of the Gulf Coast Working Group to "provide assistance to applicants like the Southern Rail Commission for the purpose of initiating, restoring or enhancing intercity rail passenger transportation."
The SRC has been lobbying for rail service and convinced Amtrak to do a feasibility study. The study found the best option would be to extend the City of New Orleans route to Orlando and combine it with a daily state-supported, round-trip route from New Orleans to Mobile. That would require $9.49 million a year from taxpayers.
"Today's announcement marks the first concrete step in bringing back passenger rail service to the Gulf Coast," Wicker said in a press release. "Passenger rail is an essential part of our national transportation network. Restoring this service along the Coast could have a monumental impact on the region's economic development, as well as Mississippians' quality of life."
The Amtrak train will roll out of New Orleans at 8:45 Thursday morning and make its first Coast stop in Bay St. Louis at 10:10 a.m. at The Depot at 1928 Depot Way.
After a 10-minute stop, it will leave for Gulfport, where it's expected at 10:50 at the east side of the Depot at 1419 27th Avenue.
The train will be in Gulfport only 10 minutes, but the city is throwing a party nonetheless with a pep rally, live music, a display from the Railroad Museum and refreshments. Wicker, Mayor Billy Hewes, Gov. Phil Bryant and Hancock Bank President John Hairston are scheduled to speak.
At Biloxi, the train will stop at 860 Esters Blvd. at the only multi-modal transit center on the Coast, where riders will find an outdoor cafe, second-liners and a jazz band are lined up for the Biloxi stop at 11:21.
The train won't stop in Ocean Springs, but that doesn't there won't be a party there as well.
"Passenger rail would be a tremendous boost to tourism along the Gulf Coast, as well as provide a service for commuters" said Mayor Connie Moran in an email. "The city of Ocean Springs is proud to welcome the inspection train as it passes through. We will all work hard for passenger rail service."
At the L&N Train Depot Plaza, 1000 Washington Ave., there will be music by the Ocean Springs High School band, snacks and drinks between 11:30 and noon.
The train will make a final Mississippi stop in Pascagoula at 12:06 p.m. then continue on to Mobile and Attmore, Ala. The tour continues Friday with Florida stops in Pensacola, Crestview, Chipley, Tallahassee, Madison and Jacksonville.