Happening Now

THIS Is How Grassroots Works!

March 10, 2023

By Jim Mathews / President & CEO

Chalk up another win for grassroots advocates! Today Amtrak confirmed it’s applying for funding through the Federal-State Partnership for Intercity Rail grant program to take a serious step toward connecting Meridian, Miss., to Marshall, Tex., through the I-20 Corridor initiative.

Nicole Bucich, the VP for Network Development at Amtrak, told the Southern Rail Commission this morning during its regular meeting that Amtrak would partner with SRC to go after Fed-State Partnership money to study the details of how to make the new service a reality by extending the Crescent.

“With the encouragement and support of Federal, state, and local officials, this application is the first step in determining the feasibility of this concept and the benefits and challenges, including Federal funding commitments, of expanding Amtrak service to the I-20 route,” Bucich said.

Amtrak said today that the decision was made possible in part the new resources made available in the Investment in Infrastructure and Jobs Act infrastructure package, now known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. But what really made it possible was grassroots energy, activism, and determination.

Not only was it grassroots energy harnessed by this Association that helped to get the $66 billion+ passenger rail provisions of the Jobs Act across the finish line in 2021, but the I-20 Corridor as an idea has been kept alive over years of waxing and waning support through the efforts of the I-20 Corridor Council – the brainchild of Association members Christina Anderson and Judge Richard Anderson of Marshall, Tex.

The Andersons patiently, doggedly, cheerfully, and persistently assembled a coalition of local elected and appointed officials, business leaders, Chambers of Commerce, bit by bit over nearly two decades. They made speeches, organized meetings, wrote briefs, made presentations, and did all of the hard pavement-pounding of retail politics. And by being positive and constructive advocates, they gave Amtrak, area Mayors, state politicians, the Southern Rail Commission, and members of Congress the confidence to move forward knowing that this move would enjoy broad support.

They told their story during our Fall conference in Kansas City. You can take a look at it here, and see what a winning blueprint looks like.

This morning we issued my official statement congratulating everyone involved, from Amtrak to Transportation for America, the Southern Rail Commission, the elected and appointed officials backing this move, and the I-20 Corridor Council.

There’s a lot more to do, and a lot more ways this could yet stumble. But as I said this morning, we’re thrilled to hear this very welcome development about an expansion that is long, long overdue. It is hard to overstate the degree to which this really is, in an unfortunately over-used phrase, a ‘game-changer' -- the first new Amtrak service of its kind in more than a quarter-century.

The story of the I-20 Corridor Council and the efforts of the Andersons shows just how powerful it is to combine patience, constructive engagement, and persistence. Grassroots activism can work, and today we can rejoice in another grassroots win! Congratulations Christina and Judge Anderson!