Amtrak, Southern Rail Commission, seeking grant to begin work on Vicksburg route

Published 5:34 pm Thursday, June 8, 2023

Amtrak and the Southern Rail Commission have applied for a $14 million Department of Transportation Intercity Passenger Rail grant to begin planning and developing passenger rail service along the I-20 Corridor from Dallas/Fort Worth to Meridian, an Amtrak official said Thursday.

Nicole Bucich, Amtrak vice president of network development, announced the grant application at a meeting of the Southern Rail Commission in Vicksburg on the status of passenger rail service through the I-20 Corridor; a project called the I-20 Amtrak Crescent Project.

The Crescent presently provides one daily round trip between New York, Atlanta, Ga., Birmingham, Ala. and New Orleans, La., and points in between and Amtrak officials are evaluating extending the Crescent’s service, Bucich said.

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“We will evaluate splitting trains in Meridian, Miss., with one section continuing down to New Orleans and the new section extending to Jackson, Vicksburg, Ruston, Monroe, Shreveport and then to Dallas/Fort Worth,” she said.

The extension serving the communities in the I-20 corridor, she said, will bring more trains to more people. She added the extension of service could open other opportunities to expand passenger rail service to other areas.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the corridor is set up to move to passenger rail.

“There’s a couple of stars that are in place,” he said. “The new ownership of the Canadian Pacific and Kansas City Southern Railroad are welcoming this conversation. Amtrak in the course of that transaction of the merger made certain that provisions were in there to support ideas like this and service to Baton Rouge for that matter.

“We have now a freight railroad that is welcoming this idea and understands that we’re improving the railroad for passenger trains, whether it’s one or two a day or more. We’re also improving it for freight, shippers and freight traffic.”

The new owners of CP and KCS, he said, understand that an improved railroad benefits every user — passenger and freight.

“That’s not been the place we’ve been until just recently and the feds who approved that merger made this and Baton Rouge and others a condition of approving the merger,” Magliari said. “So there’s actually teeth in it.”

There are also contributions by states in the early planning that included matching funds.

“I mean, that sounds simple but it is not and I know it took a while to get everyone on board for that. But the momentum is here for that and it’s just the general political support I would add is just really a key to drive,” Magliari said.

Bucich said the grant will allow Amtrak officials to plan service and operations and examine the infrastructure requirements that would be needed to serve passenger rail.

“Once we complete these project development activities, it’s going to set us up for the next round of funding grant requirements, which would be for final designers,” Bucich said.

Asked for a timetable, she estimated it could take at least 10 years to complete the project. “That’s the best (estimate) right now,” she said. “I ask for your patience; this has been many years in the making and it’s just not going to happen overnight.

“Once we get through this first $14 million worth of work that we have to do, then it’s going to take a few more years after that to do the design and construction, we have to design and construct stations.”

“This is a particularly aggressive grant application,” Magliari said. “We’re not just looking for studying money. We can clear a whole lot of obstacles that are between where we are and where we want to be.”

Magliari said the level of public support from mayors, counties, Louisiana parishes, and the Southern Rail Commission “sets us up for this kind of optimism about winning this grant.

“We are closer now than we’ve ever been to having service that was lost in 1968,” he said. “The need is there.”

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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