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Carrying the message of Gulf Coast support for passenger rail up to Capitol Hill

After last week’s inspiring rail trip along the Gulf Coast where we witnessed firsthand the massive support for restoring passenger rail service along the coast, a member of the Southern Rail Commission testified before the Senate’s key rail committee earlier this week to deliver the same message Gulf Coast citizens so passionately presented at each stop last week.

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS), a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, addresses the enormous crowd in Gulfport on the second stop of the Gulf Coast Inspection Train. Photo by Steve Davis / T4America

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS), a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, addresses the enormous crowd in Gulfport on the second stop of the Gulf Coast Inspection Train. Photo by Steve Davis / T4America

Mayor Knox Ross, the mayor of Pelahatchie, Mississippi and one of the state’s representatives appointed to the tri-state Southern Rail Commission (SRC), came to Washington following last week’s trip to deliver testimony to the Senate Commerce Committee for a previously scheduled hearing on America’s passenger rail system. Note: T4America serves as policy advisors for the SRC. -Ed. 

In a refreshingly moving bit of testimony before the eleven committee members present, Mayor Ross shared his experiences from last week and urged the members to build on the groundwork laid by this very committee’s hard work to include smart passenger rail policy in last year’s broader surface transportation bill for the first time in history. (The FAST Act.)

Knox Ross Senate Commerce

“As our commission has visited communities across the gulf South, we have found the transportation options available to our citizens are becoming more limited and costly,” Mayor Ross told the committee. He noted in his written testimony how other options like air service and intercity buses have scaled back in the last decade in many of the rural communities along the coast, and how citizens have responded to this possibility of having a new connection between cities small and large.

“We saw an amazing outpouring of support in every city. …They just want an opportunity. Every city turned out. They’re looking for a hand up and saw Amtrak service as that opportunity,”

Just like the other local officials we spoke to, Mayor Ross sees this passenger rail connection as a powerful economic development tool for these Gulf Coast cities, small and large.

“We’re gearing toward connecting our smaller cities to our larger ones and giving these cities the opportunity to compete. All the cities along this route see the economic development potential of the train,” he said, drawing the same parallel to the interstate system that we did in our second post on the trip. “We invested in the national interstate system years ago and saw tremendous economic development, but now we’re having to put more money than ever into it with diminishing returns as we add lanes. Every modest investment in passenger trains across this country can create large economic development opportunities in all these cities.”

The impact of last week’s trip wasn’t lost on the outgoing Amtrak President and CEO Joseph Boardman, who also testified Tuesday. “I think the excitement you saw last week is dramatic evidence of just how much we can bring to those towns – and how deeply they appreciate it,” he said.

“We all have an interest in ensuring that Amtrak continues to be as effective as possible, and that the American people in all regions of the country receive the passenger service they deserve. …The respective needs wherever you are in this network, for state corridors, long distance services, and the northeast corridor, and unifying those interests here in congress and across the country is critically important,” Mr. Boardman said.

Before the testimony began, the committee showed the short movie about the trip that T4America produced.

Mayor Ross followed up with perhaps the most powerful observation from the trip; the one was that stuck in the heads of many of the people we talked to along the way.

“One thing I hope you saw in that film….you saw black, white, republican, democrat. This is a bipartisan issue that we can all back and all agree on, an issue that can help bring our country together.”

2 Comments

  1. Desmond Gray

    2 years ago

    Inspection train displayed the prompts that gulf coast citizens support: restore rail service to rebuild communities.

  2. Sharon DeLong

    2 years ago

    Why wasn’t Louisiana included in this initiative? Trains from New Orleans with a proposed route to the Gulf Coast cities in the video must come through Slidell, LA. We are very interested in joining in this initiative! Please contact us!
    Sharon DeLong, Vice Chair
    Slidell Transportation Task Force
    mainstreet@estchamber.com
    512589.9802