The Southern Rail Commission met in Bay St. Louis on Friday, and members said the effort to restore passenger rail service between Mobile and New Orleans -- with daily stops in the Bay -- are still on track.
That is, of course, with the provision that all the various municipalities and government entities involved hold up their end, restoring and/or creating rail station facilities along the way.
Members of the Bay St. Louis City Council said this week they're working on their end. Bay St. Louis city government and Hancock County Board of Supervisors agreed in March to invest $50,000 each in upgrading the existing BSL Depot to make it ADA-compliant for train passengers.
At its regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday, the council gave state Sen. Philip Moran a Gulf Coast Restoration Fund funding request to help upgrade the Bay's historic Depot District. The council is seeking $1.6 million in GCRF funds for the Depot improvements, and the city will have to match $400,000, for an overall project cost of $2 million.
The matching funds would be provided through municipal bonds, officials said.
"We're trying to get all the council on board to back this project, get the mayor on board to back this project, and I know we've got (Hancock) Tourism on board to back this project," Ward 3 Councilman Jeffrey Reed said Friday.
According to the funding request, "The historic L & N Train Depot is designated a 'Mississippi Landmark,' and currently houses the Hancock County Tourism,Bay St Louis Mardi Gras Museum, and Alice Moseley Folk Art Museum. This park area is utilized for art and music festivals. Located across from the depot is 'Depot Row' which has become a multi-use area incorporating residential and commercial units. The area needs additional restroom facilities and parking to accommodate the increase participation in art and music festivals. Similarly, the addition of an amphitheater would help support the local music community. The historic depot is also in need of interior updates and exterior repairs to include water proofing, parking and striping and ADA accessibility improvements."
"The Bay St. Louis Depot is the pearl of the city," Councilman-at-Large Gary Knoblock said Friday.
Knoblock said whether or not passenger rail service along the Coast is restored, the Depot renovations would be good for Bay St. Louis.
"The train's just an added benefit," he said.
The passenger rail restoration project has been in the works since early 2016, when members of the SRC, Sen. Roger Wicker and Gov. Phil Bryant conducted an Amtrak tour from New Orleans to Jacksonville, Fla., stopping in Bay St. Louis and other points on the Gulf Coast along the way.
Once the service is operational, Ross said, there will also be stops in Gulfport, Biloxi and Pascagoula.
Ross said earlier this year that the service would be a huge boon for Bay St. Louis, bringing two trains a day in from New Orleans, and two trains a day in from Mobile.
"There are at least 700,000 foreign visitors a year in New Orleans, and that's not counting the millions of conventioneers every year," Ross said. "They might not rent a car and drive all the way to the Bay, but they'll walk a block or two down to the train station for a nice day trip."
Transportation America Chairman John Robert Smith, who is working with the SRC to facilitate Mobile-to-New Orleans passenger rail service, said in March that an economic impact study indicated that the passenger service would yield a 15-1 return on investment on the Gulf Coast.