GULFPORT, Miss. (AP) — Grant money recently approved by Congress could help passenger trains see a comeback along the U.S. Gulf Coast between Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.
The $1.3 trillion spending bill that will keep the federal government operating through September includes grant money that would aid plans to restore passenger train service between New Orleans and Mobile, Alabama, The Sun Herald reported.
"We have a unique opportunity," said Knox Ross, vice chairman of the Southern Rail Commission.
Ross said the two-year, $20 million grant would require a 50-percent match from participating states. The commission's goal is to have two trains each day, one in the morning and another in the afternoon. That would allow passengers to make day trips to stroll through New Orleans, visit museums in Mobile or play at the casinos on the Mississippi coast.
Amtrak's service along the Gulf Coast between Florida and Louisiana ended after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. Ross says the rail commission is pushing to see service restored all the way to Orlando. But its short-term priority is passenger trains running between Alabama and Louisiana.
Ross says the shorter route would have advantages, such as giving more control to ensure trains are on time. Special event stops could also be added, he said, at stations in smaller cities that aren't regular stops on the route.
It would cost Mississippi $20 million, spread out over four years, to take advantage of the federal grant, Ross said. The funds possibly could come from Restore Act money directed to the Gulf Coast from the BP oil spill fine.
"This brings the people you need to you," Ross told business owners at meeting of the GulfCoast Business Council.