VICKSBURG — Tourism in this river city is expected to get a major boost when Amtrak begins passenger and express mail rail service that will go through Vicksburg.
Jimmy Heidel, executive director, Vicksburg-Warren County Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Foundation, said the new Amtrak passenger service will bring additional tourists to the community and enhance retail sales.
“It is a very positive development,” Heidel said. “It is another economic development tool we can use to bring additional people to our community. We should see some additional construction or renovation in the downtown area for a depot. Our downtown is very viable at this time. They added 21 new businesses in the downtown last year. This could have a great positive impact on retail sales.”
The City of Vicksburg is considering purchasing the old train depot and renovating it. That would follow the lead of other cities like Meridian that already have Amtrak passenger service. The city is also considering a trolley service that would provide transportation from the railroad depot to area stores, casinos and historical attractions.
Heidel said the train could increase traffic to Vicksburg casinos, as well as boost visitorship to tourist attractions such as the Vicksburg National Military Park, historic homes, the Southern Heritage Cultural Center, the Coca-Cola Bottling Company where the first bottle of Coke in the world was bottled and retail stores including the outlet mall.
“There are a lot of things people can do here,” Heidel said. “We are a tourism-related community, and it will help the growth of tourism in our community overall. This is one of the few rail crossings of the Mississippi River in the state of Mississippi. It is a great opportunity for the citizens of Vicksburg and Warren County.”
The idea to add passenger rail service to Vicksburg is part of a plan announced by Amtrak recently involving expanding passenger rail service in 21 states and strengthening its competitive edge in the mail and express business. The plans were developed after a comprehensive economic analysis of the national rail system, and would generate an estimated $65 million in net extra income beginning in 2003.
‘’This is an effort to define, for the first time in our history, a national system that is underpinned by solid economic prospects,’’ Amtrak President George Warrington said.
Under the plan Amtrak would split in Meridian, with one train heading south to New Orleans and another west to Fort Worth going through Vicksburg and Monroe and Shreveport, La. One reason the route was selected was the opportunity for building business in mail and express deliveries between Dallas-Ft. Worth and the East Coast. Amtrak estimated that business could generate an additional $7.7 million per year by 2003.
The mail and express business is a key component of Amtrak’s plan for greater profitability. Congress has passed reforms that will remove federal subsidies for Amtrak at the end of fiscal year 2002. Congressional approval isn’t needed for approval of the new routes, but Amtrak must reach agreements with freight railroads. Freight railroads may be reluctant to enter agreements that would increase competition from Amtrak.
Tommy Thompson, Amtrak’s chairman of the board, said Amtrak must constantly search for new market opportunities and keep on growing just like other businesses.
“Like other businesses, we are using state-of-the-art commercial tools and analysis to increase our market share and improve efficiency,” Thompson said.
Amtrak currently operates a 22,000-mile passenger rail system that stops at about 500 communities in 45 states. In addition to Vicksburg, other new stops on the passenger system will be Des Moines and Iowa City, Iowa, Rockford, Ill., Monroe and Shreveport, La.; Lake Geneva and Janesville, Wis., and Daytona Beach, Cape Canaveral and Fort Pierce, Fla.
Most of the recent plans for expanding Amtrak’s network aren’t major, new, long-distance routes, but strategic extensions designed to provide greater choices. Amtrak’s Network Growth Strategy is built on a network of feeder routes that, much like the airlines, are connected at major hubs such as Chicago and Dallas/Ft. Worth.
“The Network Growth Strategy will result in a larger, better connected system of trains that provides greater choices to travelers and shippers of time-sensitive express,” said Warrington. “As a result, Amtrak will be more competitive on both the passenger side and in the mail and express market.”
Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at email@example.com or (228) 872-3457.