Mississippi coast residents are hoping passenger rail service will be restored after a 10-year hiatus since Hurricane Katrina. MPB’s Evelina Burnett was in Gulfport Thursday morning when an Amtrak inspection train stopped for a visit.
Hundreds of coast residents cheered as an Amtrak inspection train pulled into the station in Gulfport, and similar crowds greeted the train across the Gulf Coast. The train made stops Thursday in Bay St. Louis, Biloxi and Pascagoula.
Carolyn Rushing lives here in Gulfport now but grew up in Bay St Louis. She recalls riding the train to New Orleans as a young girl with her mother.
"We would have lunch, we'd spend the day over in New Orleans, we'd shop on Canal Street, we'd just have a wonderful time," she says. "So always a train has been so exciting. And another thing is, it's going to be exposure for my grandchildren. Hopefully, we can do the same thing that my mother did for us, that we can do for our grandchildren."
Southern Rail Commission chairman Greg White says he thinks the time is right to bring passenger trains back to the Gulf Coast "primarily for economic development," he says. "If we can get a long-term commitment and then bring this service back daily, we believe that it holds great opportunity for all of the Gulf Coast."
In a recent study, Amtrak estimates passenger rail service from New Orleans to Orlando would require funding of just under $10 million dollars a year. Amtrak spokesman Joe McHugh says it generally takes two to three years to restore this kind of service.
"We need the cooperation of CSX, and so far they've been very cooperative," he says. "We have terrific political support down here. I think, by and large, we've done everything we need to do. The question isn't should we do it. The question is how do we do it and how quickly can we do it. So that's what we hope to accomplish over the next several months and get this done."
In a statement, CSX says it still needs to evaluate factors such as capacity, safety upgrades and costs.