Gilich wants big splash for Amtrak stop in Biloxi

Amtrak and the Southern Rail Commission have announced a tour of the railway between New Orleans and Jacksonville, Fla., will take place next month, and Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich says he wants the Biloxi stop, on Feb. 18 at 11:21 a.m., to be a pep rally to promote a revival of passenger rail service on the Gulf Coast.

The tour by the Inspection Train, hosted by Amtrak President and CEO Joe Boardman, will carry elected officials, industry representatives, community leaders and federal stakeholders. The goal of the invitation-only trip is to examine the existing CSX railroad infrastructure and to better understand rail’s economic, cultural and mobility opportunities. It will provide an unparalleled perspective on reintroducing intercity passenger rail along the Gulf Coast, Amtrak says.

The special train will be in Biloxi shortly after 11 a.m. on Thursday, Feb. 18. The overall schedule:

Feb. 18:

• Louisiana: New Orleans

• Mississippi: Bay St. Louis, Gulfport, Biloxi, Pascagoula.

• Alabama: Mobile, Atmore, 2:41.

Feb. 19:

• Florida: Pensacola,  Crestview, Chipley,  Tallahassee, Madison,  Lake City,  Jacksonville.

“I want to see this be a huge event for Biloxi,” Gilich said. “This is a great opportunity to showcase our stop, the multi-modal transit center already in place, with easy access to thousands of hotel rooms, a half-dozen casinos resorts, and MGM Park all nearby.  We have all of the pieces in place, and now is our opportunity to show how we’re ready for daily passenger rain service.”

The arrival of the Inspection Train is in the wake of an Amtrak study by Amtrak detailing the range of feasible service options accompanied by an analysis of ridership levels, projected revenues, and associated costs for passenger trains between New Orleans and Orlando. The models in the new study present the range of service options that will support regional economic resilience and projected population growth.

“The most important thing about the Amtrak study is that is it an acknowledgement that daily passenger rail service for the Gulf Coast is viable,” Gilich said. “The daily service is something that Biloxi, the cities on the Gulf Coast and the Southern Rail Commission have advocated for years. This is about economic and tourism development across the Gulf Coast.”

The new study, which Amtrak completed at the request of the multi-state Southern Rail Commission, reviewed a number of options that would see the return of passenger rail service, which was suspended just before Hurricane Katrina in August 2005.

Amtrak says extending the City of New Orleans line to Orlando would generate annual ridership of 153,900, and would include a funding commitment of nearly $10 million. An alternate line extension, providing daily round-trip service from Mobile to New Orleans, would cost $5.5 million and would attract ridership of 138,300.

Other options considered are two daily round trips from New Orleans to Mobile, and only one long distance round trip from New Orleans to Orlando.

“Regardless of the favored scenario,” Gilich said, “Biloxi and the Gulf Coast are directly in the path of the area being discussed, from New Orleans to Orlando. Here in Biloxi, we’re well-positioned. Our Biloxi Transit Center in our downtown has the waiting area, the ticket windows, the parking space, the cab service, thousands of hotel rooms a short drive or walk away, and, let’s not forget, MGM Park.

“This multi-model transit center is not where it is by accident. All we need is a good platform at the railway, and we’re ready. The city knew this day would come, and it’s getting closer every day.”
Read the complete Amtrak report