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Amtrak route will return to the Gulf Coast

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Amtrak, freight rail companies and the Port of Mobile have reached a deal that will return passenger trains to the Mississippi Gulf Coast, connecting Mobile to New Orleans.

In a joint statement, all parties — Amtrak, CSX Transportation, Norfolk Southern Railway Company and the Port of Mobile — said they have “collectively reached an agreement” that supports both freight and passenger trains operating in the Gulf Coast Corridor.

“It’s going to happen,” Southern Railway Commissioner Knox Ross said. “Everybody has to do what they said they were going to do, but it’s going to be a huge boost for the Gulf Coast.”

The settlement agreement was filed on Monday. The federal board tasked with deciding the route’s future was due to vote on the years-long dispute in December. The board asked the parties to try mediation first.

The proposed route would run two trains daily with stops in Bay St. Louis, Pascagoula, Gulfport and Biloxi. Amtrak has not operated along the Gulf Coast since Hurricane Katrina.

Ross said the details of the deal are confidential and he has no timetable for what to expect. A copy of the settlement agreement filed with the Land Transportation Board redacted specific details, but said the terms of the settlement “will fully resolve the dispute” after “several conditions are met in the coming weeks and months.”

Amtrak first filed a complaint with the Surface Transportation Board over a year ago with a request to take part in the settlement of the dispute about access to cargo routes.

In a joint statement, the parties are asking the board to suspend the case while they work on a settlement.

Over the past few months, board members have testified for several days about the track’s ability to handle both passenger and freight trains. If the two sides couldn’t agree, a Dec. 7 board vote would determine the route’s future.

While Amtrak has always argued that the route could handle additional passenger train traffic, freight companies and the Port of Mobile have worried that could negatively impact business.

The debate has largely pitted Alabama officials against Mississippi leaders, who have long championed the return of the passenger route to the Gulf Coast as an economic boon.

“After Katrina, those centers were rebuilt and became very attractive,” Ross said, referring to the Mississippi cities along the proposed route. “And it will bring people right to the front door.”

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