Wicker Leads Senate Effort to Reform Rail System

Bipartisan Bill Prioritizes Safety, Efficient Use of Taxpayer Dollars

June 22, 2015

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and I have unveiled a new bipartisan bill to upgrade America’s passenger rail system. Titled the “Railroad Reform, Enhancement, and Efficiency Act,” it would be the first comprehensive rail bill since Congress passed the “Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act” in 2008. Two former lawmakers from our respective states, Sens. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and the late Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), were the authors of that earlier legislation.

Increasing public safety is a top priority in the bill authored by Sen. Booker and me. Last month’s derailment of an Amtrak train in Pennsylvania is a tragic reminder that our rail system is not perfect. Our legislation champions important precautions, such as speed limit action plans and reporting of potential hazards. It also supports strategic infrastructure improvements and a more efficient use of taxpayer dollars by cutting red tape, encouraging competition, and promoting accountability. States would have a larger role in the planning process, and grant programs would be consolidated to target the most critical needs.

Restoring Rail to Mississippi’s Gulf Coast

I am pleased that our rail bill could be considered by the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee as soon as next week. The bill would establish a working group with Mississippi representatives to study the return of rail service from New Orleans to Orlando across our Gulf Coast. This part of our state has not had passenger rail since Hurricane Katrina devastated the area a decade ago. Restoring this service could have a monumental impact on the region’s economic development and Mississippians’ quality of life, especially as population and tourism continue to grow.

A strong and diversified transportation network is important to the American workforce, which depends on these routes to access jobs. As our cities become more congested, we should look beyond cars, boats, and planes as means of transportation. Passenger rail is often an efficient alternative, alleviating traffic and saving Americans time and money.

Rail Stop a Big Win for Mississippi Delta

Rail is also vital to Americans living in rural areas. I look forward to the establishment of a permanent Amtrak stop in Marks in Quitman County. For the past 20 years, there has not been passenger rail service in the area, forcing residents to drive more than an hour to the nearest train station in either Greenwood or Memphis. I was among many Mississippians who enthusiastically welcomed the announcement of the Marks stop last month.

Reaching an agreement on the rail stop took years of effort by local leaders, who worked diligently with Amtrak and Canadian National Railway officials. Their persistence promises to pay off. Not only will some 200,000 Mississippians across nine counties have rail service, but the Marks stop is expected to be a major driver of jobs, business, and tourism. Some five million people visit the Delta each year to explore our state’s rich cultural heritage. They contribute nearly a quarter of the state’s annual tourism dollars.

I remain committed to ensuring that Mississippians have safe and reliable transportation services, from North Mississippi to the Gulf Coast. Passenger rail is integral to this network. It connects our state to the rest of the nation while also showing the rest of America what Mississippi has to offer.