Amtrak leaders speak on safety ahead of return to the Gulf Coast

Safety is at the heart of Amtrak’s mission to bring passenger rail service to the Coast.
Published: Feb. 8, 2023 at 6:53 PM CST
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PASCAGOULA, Miss. (WLOX) - Amtrak representatives visited Pascagoula and Gulfport to give safety briefings regarding upcoming passenger rail service.

Monday, the company began trial runs of its passenger rail service from Mobile, Alabama to New Orleans, Louisiana, with four stops along the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

“We’ve already had about five incidents where people are going around gates or trying to beat the train,” said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari. “Whether [the train] is going 79 mph or 29 mph, the ability of trains to stop short of someone on the tracks is impossible.”

Safety is at the heart of Amtrak’s mission to bring passenger rail service to the Coast. Magliari highlighted the most common scenarios that create potentially deadly encounters between trains and people.

If a vehicle is stopped on the tracks, Amtrak wants the driver to get out immediately. Then, call the dispatch telephone number located on a sign at the crossing.

“There is a blue sign on every railroad crossing,” Magliari said. “Call that emergency number so the dispatcher can try and stop the train if there’s still time. Just be careful at railroad crossings. Observe the signals. Listen for the train. Be aware of your environment.”

Beyond the safety briefing, there is a lot of anticipation and excitement for what the passenger rail service can do for downtown commerce. Pascagoula has high hopes.

“[The passenger rail service] is just another major addition for us,” said Michael Silverman, the city manager for Pascagoula. “We’ve had about $48 million of private investment in our downtown over the past few years. And giving visitors from Alabama and Louisiana the opportunity to see all these great developments is what makes this opportunity so special.”

Just a block from Pascagoula’s train station is the heart of downtown. Businesses and restaurants there are likely first stops for anyone taking the rail service to the city.

“We’re very excited. We’ve been excited for years,” said Scranton’s restaurant owner Richard Chenoweth. He has owned the restaurant for 41 years and recalls when passenger rail service ran through South Mississippi.

“I used to wait for my grandmother to come from Indianapolis,” he said. “That was back in the ‘70s.”

Chenoweth knows firsthand the possible financial impacts of being so close to a passenger train stop.

“I rode the inaugural run from New Orleans back to Pascagoula, and a bunch of people stopped and had lunch here,” he said. “That’s what I’m looking forward to -- people recognizing the fact that Pascagoula is here and want to come back and make this part of their stops.”

Amtrak will continue its trial runs for several months. The company has not announced a date for the launch of the passenger rail service.

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