GULFPORT, Miss. (WKRG) – Amtrak is continuing preparation to restore passenger train service between New Orleans and Mobile with training along the Gulf Coast.
About 40 first responders attended a classroom training in Gulfport, Miss. on Wednesday, May 10. Topics included how to respond to any call for service from a medical emergency or unruly passenger to derailment and evacuating the train.
“They are learning about our railroad procedure. It’s different from freight trains,” said Amtrak spokesperson Marc Magliari. “Folks need to know how to reach our train, how to board the train, how to move people who have a medical issue off the train.”
The agency taught first responders in Mobile and has scheduled classes in Bay St. Louis, Biloxi and Pascagoula- the other three stops on the new route. It has been 18 years since Amtrak last serviced the area along the Gulf Coast.
Wednesday’s training comes about two weeks after a driver was hit and killed by an Amtrak train after he went around the crossing gate on Navco Road, Mobile Police said. Area police chiefs were in a meeting last month to discuss coordinating responses with federal law enforcement.
Amtrak has hired for the new Gulf Coast service and launched its first training trip in February along the planned route. The train will run two daily trips from Mobile to New Orleans with four stops in Mississippi. A one-way trip will last about 3 hours and 23 minutes. A ticket price and name of the new route have not been released.
The agency is hoping to begin service later this year, but it will be dependent on a train depot being developed in Mobile.
“We definitely need to get a facility over there for us to use. The rest of the facilities on the Mississippi side are all ready, just the Mobile side isn’t,” Magliari said. “In the meantime, we’re training crews and running a small train back and forth [on] weekdays, so we can get the crews familiar with the physical characteristics of the route.”
The train station in downtown Mobile was destroyed during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Amtrak has not serviced the city since. AL.com reported in April that city administrators met with Amtrak officials to discuss the next steps to create a station at Cooper Riverside Park. The city did not provide an update on the progress to WKRG as of publication.
The new route comes after years of attempts to bring service back along the coast. Freight carriers and the Alabama Port Authority settled with the federal government in November over Amtrak’s usage of private rail to run the service.
$223 million worth of upgrades to the route, including crossing improvements, siding extensions, new freight line in Mobile and turnouts for trains to switch between tracks, are scheduled to be done over the next three years. Amtrak says most of those can be done after service has already resumed.
The Southern Rail Commission (SRC) will meet in Bay St. Louis on June 9. Amtrak’s vice president of network development is scheduled to give an update on the New Orleans to Mobile route. She will also provide updates on an I-20 corridor rail service expansion from Meridian, Miss. to Dallas-Fort Worth.
SRC members hope the Mobile line will eventually extend to Orlando, Fla. Commissioners are also working to build rail service from Mobile to Birmingham through Montgomery and from New Orleans to Baton Rouge.