Amtrak, freight rail companies and the Port of Mobile have struck a deal that will bring back passenger trains to the Mississippi Gulf Coast, connecting Mobile to New Orleans.
A joint statement from all parties – Amtrak, CSX Transportation, Norfolk Southern Railway Company and the Port of Mobile – says they “collectively reached an agreement” that supports both freight trains and passenger trains running in the Gulf Coast Corridor.
“This is going to happen,” said Southern Rail Commissioner Knox Ross. “Everybody has to do what they said they’d do, but this will be a tremendous boost for the Gulf Coast.”
The settlement agreement was filed Monday. The federal board tasked with deciding the route’s future was scheduled to vote on the years-long dispute in December. The board had asked the parties to first attempt mediation.
The proposed route would run two trains daily with stops in Bay St. Louis, Pascagoula, Gulfport and Biloxi. Amtrak hasn’t run a Gulf Coast route since Hurricane Katrina.
Ross said the details of the agreement are confidential and he doesn’t have a timeline of what to expect. A copy of the settlement agreement filed with the Surface Transportation Board had specifics redacted but stated the settlement terms will “completely resolve the dispute” after “several conditions are met in the coming weeks and months.”
Amtrak first filed its complaint with the Surface Transportation Board over a year ago, asking the body to step in to settle the dispute over access to the freight-owned tracks.
In the joint statement, the parties ask the board to pause the case as they work through the agreement.
Board members have sat through days worth of testimonies about the track’s ability to support both passengers and freight trains over the last several months. Had the parties not settled, the board’s Dec. 7 vote would have determined the route’s future.
Amtrak had always maintained the route could handle the added passenger train traffic, freight companies and the Port of Mobile worried it could negatively affect business.
The debate largely pitted Alabama officials against Mississippi leaders who have long championed the return of a passenger route to the Gulf Coast as an economic boon.
“Since Katrina, these downtowns have been rebuilt and become very attractive,” Ross said, referring to the Mississippi cities on the proposed route. “And this will bring people right to their front door.”