New passenger rail service for Mississippi? Grant announcement is first step toward reality, officials say
Published 5:29 am Friday, December 15, 2023
Passenger rail service for Mississippi communities along the Inetrstate-20 corridor will take a critical step toward reality with the announcement of a federal grant award on Friday.
The Federal Railroad Administration has awarded a $500,000 Corridor Identification and Development Program Grant to the Southern Rail Commission, an important step in potentially bringing passenger rail traffic to Vicksburg.
Commissioner Chairman Knox Ross said the grant is the first step toward determining the process necessary to bring passenger rail service to the I-20 Corridor. The grant award will be made during a Friday press conference in Monroe, La.
“This is a $500,000 planning grant to start the process,” Ross said, explaining that the grant guarantees funding for a critical phase in which assessments will be done for construction needs such as sidings on the railroad or new stations.
He called the grant “an official recognition that this is a corridor of interest from the Federal Railroad Administration.”
“Implementing passenger rail service along the I-20 corridor will not only provide a connection to Vicksburg and major cities like Atlanta and Dallas but will also focus on much-needed safety and quality of life improvements for underserved residents within the broader region,” Mayor George Flaggs Jr. said.
Being a part of the I-20 Corridor will revolutionize the Vicksburg/Warren County area in terms of retail retail and development.
“It’s going to be what we need in the downtown area to move this city much further and faster than I ever anticipated,” Flaggs said, explaining that the corridor will allow Vicksburg to capture more traffic traveling between Atlanta, Jackson and Dallas. “To be able to capture that traffic is going to significantly enhance tourism in this city, especially with the direction the (Vicksburg) National Military Park is going in terms of that interpretive center.”
Flaggs said a train station has been designed for the city but a decision where to locate it has not been determined. “We’re still looking at two parcels,” he said.
The potential of Amtrak passenger rail service for Vicksburg 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.
The Vicksburg Board of Mayor and Aldermen in 2022 approved a resolution supporting the program, which includes a North Louisiana Passenger Rail Plan calling for passenger rail service from Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas, to Meridian with stops in Shreveport, La., Monroe, Vicksburg and Jackson.
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.
According to information from the Southern Railroad Commission, the grant being announced this week will supplement other federal, state and local funds committed to the corridor to support the development of corridor scope, schedule and cost estimates for the project and documentation of service development plans for passenger rail service across the I-20 Corridor.
By being accepted into the Federal Railroad Administration’s program, the project is anticipated to receive future funding allocations and move seamlessly through each phase of development toward implementation of service.
Ross said the FRA will send guidelines for the grant but some planning is already underway. He said the grant gets the commission in line for funding for a route evaluation and then an environmental assessment and planning to determine how to keep the route moving smoothly