Editorials

Train service just isn't arriving at the right time for Coast

The Amtrak Inspection Train arrives in Gulfport on Feb. 18, 2016. The train ride began in New Orleans, making stops at Bay St. Louis, Gulfport, Biloxi Pascagoula before heading to Alabama and Florida.
The Amtrak Inspection Train arrives in Gulfport on Feb. 18, 2016. The train ride began in New Orleans, making stops at Bay St. Louis, Gulfport, Biloxi Pascagoula before heading to Alabama and Florida. ttisbell@sunherald.com File

This particular iteration of proposed passenger service is not the big idea that will propel Coast tourism to the next level.

There are just too many questions about the plan, questions that arrived at the 11th hour with backers up against a deadline to apply for a grant. That is not a recipe for good decision making.

While there would be advantages to having a twice daily route between the Coast cities — Pascagoula, Biloxi, Gulfport and Bay St. Louis — and New Orleans and Mobile, we aren't sure our market can support it. We know the government would have to subsidize them to some extent and we have heard there would be a hefty return on investment, if a certain number of tourists were lured to the Coast via passenger service.

That's the big if. And we're not close to being sure the tourists will take the Amtrak bait.

A pair of college students from Washington DC toured 25 cities in 28 days as interns with Amtrak. Here’s what they had to say about Mississippi.

We know Amtrak's reputation for running trains on time. You can check Amtrak's website and see for yourself. They are often late. One on Thursday afternoon was running 48 minutes late.

Now, imagine yourself on vacation. You're waiting on transportation from point A to point B and find out it's nearly an hour behind schedule. Granted, air travelers are used to delays and while they might gripe a lot, it's highly unlikely that they would scrap the flight and go for alternative transportation. For one thing, they'd be out hundreds of dollars for their plane tickets.

Our visitors, though, mostly arrive by car. And, yes, a visitor from New Orleans or Mobile could encounter a delay because of a wreck or roadwork. But there are ways around those.

It's not that there wouldn't be any riders. There are people who hate to drive, who don't want to drive back from New Orleans after drinking.

But look at U.S. 90 on a Saturday night and you'll see plenty of evidence that our visitors love to drive. And people from the Coast like the fact they can jump in their car on a moment's notice and be in Mobile or New Orleans in at most 90 minutes.

We know there are those we will disagree with us, they were out in force a couple of years back when Amtrak make a whistle stop tour of the Coast to drum up support.

Now, the supporters say this wouldn't be Amtrak per se, it would be a train operated by Amtrak. But we don't know what kind of train, what kind of cars. In fact, we know little about what passenger service would look like. What time of day or night would it run? How much time would there be between trains? What would tickets cost?

But we know one thing. Any passenger train would have to share the tracks with CSX freight trains that would have first dibs on the tracks.

That is why passenger service in this country is plagued by delays.

Govs. Phil Bryant of Mississippi and Kay Ivey of Alabama wouldn't make the financial commitment for supporters to secure federal money. We believe they made a wise choice.

The editorial represents the views of the Sun Herald editorial board. Opinions of columnists and cartoonists are their own.
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