A CSX Transport freight train passes through Bay St. Louis along tracks that could one day host an Amtrak passenger route. Credit: Sara DiNatale/Mississippi Today

A federal board has scheduled its vote on whether Amtrak’s service will return to Mississippi’s Gulf Coast with a route from Mobile to New Orleans. 

The Surface Transportation Board, a federal body made up of presidential appointees, announced Friday it will vote on the future of the passenger route on Dec. 7. The contested route has been under the board’s review for over a year, with Amtrak and the track’s freight-company owners presenting their own cases about its viability. 

There will be a final set of November hearings ahead of the vote. 

“Amtrak is preparing for the next hearing, confident in our case for Gulf Coast access and optimistic our service will begin next year,” spokesman Marc Magliari said in a statement. 

Read more: Amtrak breaks ground for new Gulf Coast platform, though route still uncertain

Amtrak has maintained the route can handle the added passenger train traffic, while companies CSX Transportation and Norfolk Southern Railway Company say it could negatively affect businesses that rely on the Port of Mobile to move freight. 

The hearings, beginning Nov. 17, will focus on models that predict train traffic. 

Amtrak hasn’t run a Gulf Coast route since Hurricane Katrina. The proposed route would run two trains daily in the morning with stops in Bay St. Louis, Pascagoula, Gulfport and Biloxi. 

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