Passenger Rail Service Returns to Miss.

BILOXI, Miss. (AP) -- Federal funding has been awarded to Mississippi to support the return of passenger rail service between New Orleans and Mobile, Alabama, the secretary of U.S. Department of Transportation said Thursday.

Mississippi is getting more than $21 million for infrastructure improvements, Elaine Chao said during the Coastal Region Transportation Summit in Biloxi. That includes a $4.3 million grant for the Southern Rail Commission to support the return of passenger rail service along the Mississippi Gulf Coast and $16.8 million to replace 12 bridges in rural Mississippi counties.

"Everywhere I go I bring money, and I'm not going to disappoint today," Chao said.

Chao said the $225 million in grants through the Competitive Highway Bridge Program was awarded to 20 bridge projects in 18 states, with Mississippi one of only two states to get funding for two projects, The Sun Herald reported.

This is the first Restoration & Enhancement Grant, and Chao said she couldn't think of a better project than Gulf Coast passenger rail service, for which Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker, who is chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, has worked so hard.

"His priorities are my priorities," she said. "Whenever I see Senator Wicker, I think passenger rail."

Wicker said the grant will be combined with other funds to put South Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana one step closer to achieving enhanced freight and passenger rail service.

"It's going to be a huge job creator for Alabama and Mississippi," he said of the restoration of train service that was discontinued 14 years before when Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29, 2005, damaging rails and stations.

(KR)