Long-awaited passenger rail service will soon return between New Orleans and Mobile – in part, thanks to Bay St. Louis’s enthusiastic support.
- by Lisa Monti
- photos by Ellis Anderson
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UPDATE: New proposed passenger rail routes
Passenger rail service is on the verge of returning to the Gulf Coast after a stalemate ended last week with a settlement announced by Amtrak, CSX, Norfolk Southern and the Alabama State Port Authority.
“We have an agreement, and I think everybody is going to be happy with it,” Knox Ross, chair of the Southern Rail Commission (SRC), told the Shoofly Magazine. The SRC is a five-state coalition whose members, according to their website, work to "support and influence Southeast rail initiatives."
Bay resident Kay Kell, a longtime member of the Southern Rail Commission, said, “We’re very optimistic. This is a giant step forward.”
Final details are being worked out, but passengers should soon be able to travel between New Orleans and Mobile in three hours and 23 minutes, with stops in Bay St. Louis, Gulfport, Biloxi and Pascagoula.
“We’ve gotten over the hardest hurdles, and we continue to meet and keep pushing,” Ross said. “It’s like putting together the last few pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. We’re almost there.”
Ross, is among those who have spent the last 10 years working on Amtrak’s return. He recalled the role Bay St. Louis leaders and residents played in courting officials aboard the 2016 inspection train tour from New Orleans to Jacksonville. Several hundred people came out to welcome the train at the historic depot. It was the first stop on the tour, and passengers were greeted with marching bands, champagne toasts and an enthusiastic crowd – some wearing costumes.
“Nobody on the train really understood how much the coast wanted this until they got to Bay St. Louis,” Ross said.
He credited Kell and Nikki Moon, another local resident and coast tourism leader, for organizing the depot welcome celebration.
Kay Kell said that Myrna Green, manager of the Hancock County Tourism Bureau and a long-time advocate of restoring passenger rail service, played a pivotal role in the welcome celebration.
"And those Raw Oyster Marching gals turning out in full costume – they always add a lot of color and enthusiasm to any event," Kell added, smiling.
“The folks in the Bay turned it out,” Ross said. “Everybody did their part, but the Bay set the tone and made it happen. When the train runs again, it’s going to run because the people in the Bay came out."
(See the Shoofly Magazine’s complete photo album of the 2016 event.)
Ross said settlement negotiators “will continue to build on this momentum by working with all involved parties – especially the communities who have been waiting so long for passenger rail – to prepare for service to start.”
He hasn’t seen a schedule yet but expects service will include morning and evening departures from New Orleans and Mobile, allowing passengers to take day trips and spend long weekends in Mississippi’s coastal cities.
The train will make it easy for New Orleans visitors to travel to the Coast for a day or longer or Mobile visitors to attend Cruisin’ the Coast.
“Every city has a different personality, and we will be able to bring people to see and experience it all,” he said. “We think the economic benefit is unbelievable.”
Among work that needs to be done to get ready for Amtrak passengers is a new platform at the Bay St. Louis Depot. This fall, the city completed other upgrades to the depot grounds to help ready it for Amtrak passengers.
In the short term, finalizing the newly announced agreement is the top priority. “Right now we’re trying to get to the finish line,” Ross said. “We’ve got to keep going.”
The next meeting of the Southern Rail Commission will take place on Friday, December 9th 9:30am-12pm in Mobile, AL. The meeting will be at the RSA Battle House Tower (Regions Bank) located at 11 N Water St (11 N Water St, Mobile, Alabama 36602); 29th Floor Pharr Room. It's open to the public.
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