Passenger train returning to city

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 8, 2001

An Amtrak train makes a test run through the city in March. (The Vicksburg Post/MARK J. ARMSTRONG)

[02/08/01] Amtrak will offer railroad passenger service through Vicksburg, linking Meridian and Dallas, as soon as tracks are improved, a spokesman said Wednesday.

It will be the first time passenger trains have stopped in the city since 1968.

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Kevin Johnson said two trains a day will begin running through the city as soon as rails are made safe for passenger trains.

“As soon as we secure funding for the track improvements this will happen,” Johnson said.

The federally subsidized company first proposed the total route, from New York to Texas, a year ago and evaluated tracks in March. Various sites along the route will need to be upgraded or repaired before service begins, Johnson said, but he could not identify specific locations.

The route, which crosses the Mississippi at Vicksburg, is heavily traveled by Kansas City Southern freight trains. Because they move faster, there are different track standards for passenger trains.

Funding for those improvements will come from federal grants and no timetable for those improvements has been announced, Johnson said.

There is no passenger depot in Vicksburg, although the former Levee Street station is still standing. KCS owns the freight lines through the city and has wanted to move tracks out of downtown, especially away from a sharp curve near Mulberry Street. Another spot that Amtrak may look at is the track along the U.S. 80 Mississippi River bridge.

Hugh “Winky” Freeman, chairman of the Vicksburg Bridge Commission and director of risk management for Canadian National Railroad, said there should be no need for improvements on the bridge itself for passenger train service.

“It’s going to depend on how fast they want to run across the bridge ,” Freeman said. “As far as infrastructure needs, there is no problem with the bridge.”

The next step for Amtrak officials will be to determine which cities along the new “Crescent Star” route, as it will be known, will have stations.

Johnson said there are no set criteria to be used to decide where stops will be placed, but that one factor will be financial.

“We’ll determine if there is a market there and whether or not the community is interested,” he said. But, “it will be up to the community to chip in.”

Passenger service began in Vicksburg when the first tracks were laid in 1836, but ended in 1968 when the last passenger train pulled out of the Holly Street Depot off Cherry Street bound for Shreveport.

Amtrak operates passenger rail service all around America, including north-south trains linking New Orleans to Chicago and Washington. The famed “City of New Orleans,” which travels between New Orleans and Chicago daily, can still be boarded in downtown Jackson. Under Congressional order, Amtrak has until fiscal year 2002 to wean itself from subsidies. The route through Vicksburg is part of a plan to boost earnings.

Amtrak officials hope the new rail service and other plans will add $229 million in revenue and cause a net gain of $65 million in 2003.

Under Amtrak’s proposal, the train through Vicksburg would originate in New York City and travel south and west to Meridian. Once reaching Mississippi, the train would be split with one section continuing south to New Orleans and part headed west through Jackson, Vicksburg, Monroe and Shreveport to Fort Worth and Dallas. At that point, the train could connect with trains headed to Mexico and the West Coast.

Between October and December, 65,660 passengers rode the train between New York and New Orleans.

Amtrak currently operates a 22,000-mile passenger rail system that serves more than 500 communities in 45 states.