Amtrak, rail freight companies CSX and Norfolk Southern, and the Alabama State Port Authority issued a joint statement that they had reached an agreement on rail service on the Gulf Coast Corridor. The agreement could lay the groundwork for the eventual resumption of intercity passenger rail service between Mobile, Alabama, and New Orleans, La, which has been suspended since Hurricane Katrina severely damaged rail infrastructure in August 2005.
Noting that the agreement would support “passenger and freight movement” along the corridor, the joint statement explained that the parties have filed a motion with the Surface Transportation Board to stay – effectively stay – the case while the parties implement the terms of the agreement.
“Due to the confidential nature of the settlement agreement, the parties are unable to comment further on its terms at this time. We thank the federal mediators appointed by the Surface Transportation Board (STB) for their work in this effort,” the statement concluded.
The motion filed with the STB is redacted, but says the terms of the agreement, if fully implemented, would end the process. The application noted that the terms would take several months to complete.
STB approved the application on November 22 and required the parties to file a notice with the board if the terms of the agreement are met or file a joint status report by June 30, 2023.
STB Chairman Martin J. Oberman noted that the board appreciates the parties’ efforts and commended the new leadership of CSX and Norfolk Southern for what Oberman believes is a “new constructive approach” to the situation.
“The resolution of this case will accelerate the return of passenger rail service in the Gulf. This will result in significant public benefit by providing a public transportation option for Gulf Coast residents and visitors alike and will have a positive impact on the region’s economy. I look forward to the parties updating us on the specific infrastructure improvements being made to the rail network as a result of the settlement,” Oberman said.
In response to the agreement, Rail Passengers Association President and CEO Jim Mathews reflected on efforts to restore passenger rail service to the Gulf Coast Corridor.
“We’ve been fighting to bring passenger trains back to the Gulf Coast since Hurricane Katrina shut it down,” Mathews said. “This 17-year journey has been filled with obstacles and frustration, but also moments of joy that have allowed local champions and national advocates to come together to realize the vision of a more connected Gulf Coast region. A return service agreement would primarily be a vindication of the courage and commitment of these people and an affirmation of our vision.”
Mathews recognized U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and the Southern Rail Commission for their leadership in advocating the return of passenger rail service to the corridor.
Senator Wicker called the agreement “a long overdue victory” for residents and businesses of the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
“This decision shows what I’ve long believed – that freight and passenger transport can thrive together,” he said. “I look forward to traveling Amtrak to stations in Bay St. Louis, Gulfport, Biloxi and Pascagoula again soon.”