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Funding may threaten Amtrak service

For more than 30 years, Natchez resident Marion Williams hasbeen coming to Brookhaven to pick up his sister Patricia when sherides Amtrak from Chicago.

“Every summer, I come here,” Patricia Williams said Saturdaymorning after getting off the City of New Orleans for her latestvisit.

Amtrak funding legislation pending in Congress could threatenher preferred method of travel.

Amtrak officials and supporters have said a measure approved bya House transportation subcommittee last week could force theshutdown of Mississippi’s three passenger train lines and othersacross the country. In addition to the City of New Orleans, thestate is served by the Crescent and Sunset Limited.

A funding level for the passenger train service still must bevoted on by House Appropriations Committee, the full House andagreed to by the U.S. Senate.

Marion Williams expressed cost and convenience concerns aboutthe impact of an Amtrak shutdown.

“This is the only one between here and a 100-mile radius,” hesaid of the Brookhaven stop. “To me, it’s really helpful to have inthis area.”

Marion Williams said it is cheaper to ride the train than it isto drive to some destinations. If Amtrak is not available, PatriciaWilliams said she would have to fly in to Jackson or New Orleansand then have be picked up there.

“And that’s too much of a problem,” her brother added.

Mayor Bob Massengill said 4,000 residents either got on or gotoff Amtrak in Brookhaven last year. Earlier this year, he joinedother mayors in writing a letter to Congressional leaders urgingsupport for Amtrak.

“It would have a serious effect if Amtrak does not receivesufficient federal funding and should cease to run between Chicagoand New Orleans,” Massengill said.

Also, Brookhaven is one of several cities in the state that arepursuing or have recently-completed new transportation facilitiesfor train services. The mayor said an Amtrak shutdown could impactthe city’s plans.

“It would have a real adverse effect on what we’re trying to dowith our multi-modal facility,” Massengill said. “If we don’t haveAmtrak stopping here two times a day, that negates the purpose ofthe facility.”

Massengill questioned whether Greyhound bus line would send itsbus to the transportation facility that would be built on NorthRailroad Avenue. The bus service currently stops at a conveniencestore on Highway 550 closer to the interstate.

“They’ve got a good situation where they are,” Massengill saidof Greyhound.

Brookhaven plans to use almost $1 million in federal funds toconstruct the transportation facility. Massengill said a 20 percentlocal match is coming from the value of the land and the buildingto be renovated, meaning no actual city dollars are needed.

“Even if we get federal funds, we don’t want to renovate abuilding if it’s not going to be used,” Massengill said.

Massengill said an architect is currently coming up with a planfor the facility. City officials hope to be in a position to acceptbids on the project in two months.

“I really believe we’re going to proceed with that scheduleuntil we know something from Amtrak,” Massengill said.

The mayor said he hopes city officials know more about Amtrak’sfuture before they get too far in the renovation process. Thefederal funds for the facility must be used by the end of June2006.

“We can’t tarry too long in making these decisions,” Massengillsaid.