- story and photos by Ellis Anderson
Resumption of passenger rail service from New Orleans to Mobile received a major boost today when the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) awarded $33 million to the Southern Rail Commission.
The money will go toward funding a $65.9 million railroad and infrastructure improvement project along the route needed to upgrade it for passenger trains.
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Southern Rail commissioner Knox Ross agrees.
“Restored passenger rail service will spark economic development along the coast,” said Ross in a telephone interview this afternoon. “The Mississippi coast towns are already set up for it. They have stations downtown, with vital and attractive downtown areas that have been the beneficiaries of substantial investments since Katrina.”
Knox said that presently while there is some limited public bus transportation on the coast, there is nothing that runs between all the coast cities or between the coast and New Orleans. This puts the coast at a distinct disadvantage, because in the field of economic development, “the ability to get around is becoming more important all the time.”
“If someone on the coast needs to go to the New Orleans, they have to get a ride or drive themselves,” Ross said. “People in the Mobile ship building business are renting vans to transport employees across the coast and the New Orleans.”
Ross also noted that the coast is missing out on an important tourism market.
“750,000 people from other countries around the world are visiting New Orleans each year,” he said. “Many would love to take a day trip out of the city and see more of this country, but they can’t get to the coast unless they rent a car.”
The Southern Rail Commission will help put together operating agreements with Amtrak and between Amtrak and CSX Railroad (which actually owns the tracks). Amtrak estimates the improvements will be completed within 24 months.
When it begins service, two passenger trains will run from New Orleans to Mobile each day – one in the morning and one in the evening. A morning and evening train will also run from Mobile to New Orleans daily.
“We’re grateful to Senator Wicker and his team – and all the other supporters who understand what a difference rail service will make,” Said Ross.