Gulf Coast Rail Restoration Receives $33 Million Federal Grant
June 10, 2019
Funds for major infrastructure & capacity improvements to restore passenger rail service
The Federal Railroad Administration has awarded $33 million to fund major infrastructure and capacity improvements to restore passenger rail service along the Gulf Coast, a huge step forward in the long battle to restore this missing link to the national passenger rail network. The Gulf Coast train was halted in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina severely damaged the route, and never restored—even after host railroad CSX brought the track back into operation for freight trains.
The $33 million award to the Southern Rail Commission will cover half the cost of the $65.9 million project, which will also be supported by a combination of investments from Mississippi, Louisiana, and Amtrak.
“Rail Passengers and our members—from all across the U.S., but especially along the Gulf Coast—have been working doggedly on restoring this critical passenger train corridor, the missing link in the National Network,” said Rail Passengers Association President Jim Mathews. “We thank our members, allied groups like the Southern Rail Commission and Transportation for America, and particularly our friends in Congress for advancing this project, which will play a critical role in the region’s economic growth.”
One of the key voices on Capitol Hill has been U.S. Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS), chair of the U.S. Senate Committee on Transportation and Commerce, who helped launch the Gulf Coast Passenger Rail Working Group in the last surface transportation legislation.
“I am thrilled to announce this award, which will support the completion of a years-long effort to restore passenger rail service to the Gulf Coast,” Senator Wicker said in a press release. “I thank Sec. Chao and the U.S. Department of Transportation for recognizing the importance of this effort and the positive economic impact this project will have for the communities along the route. For Mississippi, restoring passenger rail service is a symbol of the huge strides our state has made to recover from one of the most devastating storms on record. Reconnecting the Gulf Coast to our nation’s passenger rail network will increase access to jobs, provide an alternative to highway travel, and improve quality of life in the region.”
Other stakeholder groups added their voice to talk about the importance of the train to the region.
“As the inspection train rolled through scores of communities back in 2016, we were overwhelmed at the thousands of people who turned out in every stop to make it clear that they urgently want passenger rail service back in their communities,” added John Robert Smith, chair of Transportation for America, former mayor of Meridian, and former member of the Amtrak Board of Directors. “But winning this award is not about nostalgia: it’s about economic development, a return to vitality, and a connection to the future.”
The federal grant, part of the CRISI program, will fund half the $65.9 million cost of the improvement projects, matched with local funds from Mississippi, Louisiana and Amtrak. The State of Alabama has yet to come through with their match, smallest of the three states, but local observers remain optimistic that a deal can be reached.
"Saving the Pennsylvanian (New York-Pittsburgh train) was a local effort but it was tremendously useful to have a national organization [NARP] to call upon for information and support. It was the combination of the local and national groups that made this happen."
Michael Alexander, NARP Council Member
April 6, 2013, at the Harrisburg PA membership meeting of NARP