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Coast officials determined to bring back passenger rail

Mississippi Gulf Coast officials said they remain determined to restore passenger train service to the coast.

Regular passenger trains haven’t rolled along the tracks since before Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. However, coastal news outlets report that officials were optimistic about bringing it back during a Tuesday meeting of the Southern Railway Commission in Biloxi.

Sen. Roger Wicker said strong public support was evident during am Amtrak “test train” journey along the coast in February.

One task facing officials who want to bring back rail service will be decisions on which public grade crossings to improve and which to eliminate.

“The possibility of the passenger train brings this to the forefront. You’re going to have an 80 mph train running through there that you haven’t had in 10 years, and you’ve got a lot more traffic running across some of these crossings,” said Knox Ross, with the rail commission.

“Last year, there were 35 incidents at grade crossings in the state,” said Katie Chimeleaski of CSX. This year there have already been 15, she said, and Amtrak trains will travel at up to 80 miles per hour — much faster than freight trains.

The railroad can’t force a crossing to close, she said, and local officials must approve all closings.

“This effort could be a model of cooperation,” said Stephen Curlee of CSX.

Pass Christian Mayor Chipper McDermott said although there are too many crossings in South Mississippi, the priority should be to “get the train first,” then decide which crossings need to close

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