Coast areas get a billion-plus in rail grants

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More than a billion dollars in grants are being awarded by the Federal Railroad Administration to re-establish passenger rail along Mississippi’s Gulf Coast.

The City of Pascagoula received the largest amount — $659,000 — to restore it’s railroad station. Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974, the Louisville and Nashville Railroad Depot once served as a hub connecting Pascagoula to the rail line along the coast.

The Mobile Register reported that three other cities will also benefit from the Federal Railroad Administration grants: Biloxi will get $252,000; Gulfport $190,000; and Bay St. Louis $55,000.

Though some have placed the blame on damage to the rail system from Katrina, Pascagoula Councilman David Tadlock said that the area’s rail systems have been neglected for years.

“We lost coastal transit after Katrina, but Katrina wasn’t to blame. It was the condition of the tracks,” Tadlock said. “Over time, as (rail) became less and less reliable because of delays and a lack of collaboration between freight and passenger lines they were focused on the eastern and western corridor.”

The lack of attention to southern rails had almost driven the city of Pascagoula to sell off the old train station to the private sector in hopes that it could be turned around. It didn’t seem like money was going to come from the legislature.

Legislators are “worried about protecting the tax dollar. And you don’t want to throw money at a bad idea,” Tadlock said. “But at the same time there needs to be a multifaceted strategy to work.”

Tadlock said discussion of renewing rail passenger service on the coast prompted the city to hold onto the depot.

Tadlock sees these projects as an possible economic driver for cities scattered along the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

“Small towns grow when we allow access and growth to those towns. We see it as a win-win for not just Pascagoula but all the cities up the coast,” he said.

“I think for the cities along the Gulf Coast, these (grants) are economic stimulus drivers that will allow us to develop these areas around train depots with the addition of a rail that services several major cities, industrial areas and vacation spots,” Tadlock said.

“Speaking on behalf of the council, we’re all excited about this effort,” Tadlock said. “Will it happen overnight, I don’t think so, but with the attention focused on it from all the parties involved, I think the success factor is high.”