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Amtrak this week confirmed reports that it has notified freight railroads of its intention to begin service along the Gulf Coast between Mobile, Alabama, and New Orleans in 2022, marking the return of passenger trains that have not operated in the region since Hurricane Katrina damaged rail infrastructure there in 2005.
The Gulf Coast needs and wants Amtrak service, particularly after a study in 2017 showed where freight railroad improvements are needed, said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari in a prepared statement.
Since 2019, the Southern Rail Commission (SRC) has helped obtain $33 million in federal grants to help pay for those improvements, he added.
The commission has worked for several years to reestablish Amtrak service along the Gulf Coast.
"Having worked tirelessly with federal state and local officials on this project, we are thrilled that a departure time is in sight," said SRC Chairman Wiley Blankenship in a press release. "While additional work needs to be done to address the concerns of the Port of Mobile before service can start, Amtrak will provide a much-needed shot in the arm for local economies still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic and multiple extreme weather events."
The daily passenger-rail service between New Orleans and Mobile will feature two round trips each morning and night, with stops in Bay St. Louis, Gulfport, Biloxi and Pascagoula, SRC officials said.
The SRC has secured multiple federal grants to enable Amtrak trains to start next year, including full federal support of operating costs for the first year of service and continued federal support in the second and third year ($11.2 million). The commission also has secured a federal grant and local matching funds for improvements to area railroad infrastructure for passenger and freight service ($66 million) to cities along the route for planning, upgrading and constructing rail stations ($2 million), commission officials said.
Amtrak has not yet reached an agreement with CSX, which owns most of the track in the area on which the Amtrak service would operate, a Mobile television station reported this week.
In his statement, Magliari said Amtrak has asked freight railroads where they believe more issues exist.
"We safely and successfully operate together elsewhere in the United States, with dependable freight service coexisting with reliable and relevant Amtrak service," he said. "That's what the Gulf Coast deserves, too."