Consultant: Too early to tell if Amtrak fund request affects Vicksburg

Published 4:32 pm Monday, March 20, 2023

It’s too early to tell how a decision by Amtrak and the Southern Rail Commission to seek federal funds to study passenger rail service between Meridian and Dallas and Fort Worth, Texas, will affect a similar move by Vicksburg and three Louisiana cities, a representative for the cities’ consultant said.

Amtrak announced the decision to seek the funds last week.

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen on Feb. 10 approved a resolution to apply for federal funding through the Federal Railroad Administration for a Federal-State Intercity Passenger Rail Program grant and authorized Mayor George Flaggs Jr. to sign an agreement with the three Louisiana cities in a joint effort to get the rail program money.

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Vicksburg is partnering with the Louisiana cities of Monroe, Shreveport and Ruston to bring the rail service from the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, area along the Interstate corridor to Meridian.

The cities have contracted with Baton Rouge, La.-based consultant CSRS to prepare the grant application.

“It may be that Amtrak sort of takes the lead here so that the cities’ request becomes a global (consolidated) Amtrak request, but that’s totally not been penciled out yet,” said Matthew Martinez with CSRS. “We are still in the opening piece here.”

He said there is “a lot of money available” in the federal infrastructure bill for rail.

“The I-20 corridor is probably further ahead than any of the major corridors in the country,” he said, because of the work of Flaggs and the mayors of Monroe, Ruston and Shreveport. “I think it’s no longer a question of if, but when, and there’s a lot lining up to favorably support the implementation of this passenger rail service.”

Who will be the lead agency, Martinez said, has not been determined, “but Vicksburg is absolutely in the thick of the mix.”

Flaggs said he is going to Washington, D.C. to meet with federal rail officials about the proposed Meridian to Dallas/Fort Worth line.

He said consultants and Amtrak officials have looked at three potential sites — Pearl Street, Vicksburg Commons (formerly the Outlets at Vicksburg) and Holly Street, which Flaggs said was the former site of the city’s depot — for a new depot. All three sites are under study and no decision has been made.

A decision on a depot may have to be made soon. According to an article on the news website My, Monroe officials predicted Amtrak will have passenger rail service between Meridian and Dallas/Forth Worth within two years.

John Robert Smith, chairman of the lobbying group Transportation for America, said the time span is possible.

When Canadian Pacific, which is trying to acquire Kansas City Southern Railroad, appeared before the Surface Transportation Board seeking to acquire the right of way from Kansas City Southern, it signed a letter with Amtrak committing to a number of passenger rail issues that it would address if it had the KCS right of way.

He was quoted in My that Canadian Pacific was committed to one round-trip service per day between Dallas/Fort Worth and Meridian within two years and two round trips per day within four years.

“The infrastructure between Meridian and Freeport certainly is in very good shape,” Smith said. “There will be some additional work on grade crossings because a passenger to train to do 79 mph needs the crossings with advanced signaling. To accommodate that versus a 40 mph freight train.”

Old Highway 80 Bridge Superintendent Herman Smith said there should be no problems with passenger trains on the bridge. He said new rails that can accommodate trains were installed in 2003.

However, he said Kansas City Southern, which owns the tracks would have the final say on any possible changes.

City and Warren County officials have both approved resolutions supporting passenger rail service between Meridian and Dallas/Fort Worth.

“We could not have done this without the county,” Flaggs said.

The advantage of having rail service to Vicksburg, he said, is it will bring more people to the city.

“We’re a tourist attraction; we can tie this into tours,” he said.

The move to seek funding was influenced by Louisiana’s Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements Program that envisioned potential Amtrak passenger rail service for Vicksburg.

The program is part of the Louisiana 2020 Rail Plan developed by the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development to guide the state’s freight and passenger rail service planning and project development for the next 20 years. The plan was prepared to meet requirements under the federal Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 to qualify for future funding for rail projects.

According to the Louisiana 2020 plan, Amtrak explored the possibility of service from Meridian to Dallas-Fort Worth in the 1990s. The proposal involved splitting the Crescent, which presently runs from New Orleans to New York with stops in Meridian, Birmingham, Ala., and Atlanta to establish an east-west route to Dallas-Fort Worth.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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