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Amtrak CEO expresses support for local service during visit

THE DAILY LEADER / JUSTIN VICORY / Amtrak CEO Joe Boardman shakes Mayor Joe Cox's hand after unveiling a plaque at the Godbold Transportation Center Wednesday.

THE DAILY LEADER / JUSTIN VICORY / Amtrak CEO Joe Boardman shakes Mayor Joe Cox’s hand after unveiling a plaque at the Godbold Transportation Center Wednesday.

Amtrak Chief Executive Officer Joseph Boardman stopped in Brookhaven Wednesday to outline his company’s desire to continue to provide transportation service to and from Brookhaven, and other smaller cities and towns in the state.

Amtrak remains one of the only modes of transportation for Brookhaven residents outside of vehicular traffic, a factor Boardman says contributes to the Brookhaven community and other less populated areas along Amtrak’s two passenger lines in Mississippi.

“We are the only form of transportation for many people, especially those that don’t live near major interstates. For much of rural America, we are the only option. We intend to continue our efforts here,” Boardman said.

From 2006 to the present day, Brookhaven boardings have increased from an average 4,100 boardings a year to 4,900 a year. This follows an overall 30 percent increase in business, a trend that is reflected in other Mississippi towns and cities along the two Amtrak state lines.

Despite the increase in passengers, Boardman endorsed his corporation’s efforts to seek additional funding from Congress. On the national level, Amtrak says it has been forced to siphon funding away from Northeast Corridor infrastructure that has become “vulnerable to a bigger, costlier and far more damaging failure than anything yet seen,” according to an Amtrak press release.

The Northeast Corridor serves the Northeast segment of the country and includes the cities of Washington D.C., Philadelphia, New York City and Boston.

Amtrak is requesting $1.62 billion in federal capital and operating support, an increase of approximately 16 percent from FY 2014 federal appropriations.

Boardman’s visit to Brookhaven is a push in that direction; it was also an attempt to get city officials on board and to remind them of a vested interest between Amtrak and the city.

With funding from the Mississippi Department of Transportation, the city opened the Godbold Transportation Center at 440 North Railroad Ave. in 2011, a significant transformation from the previous train stop by the old downtown depot, according to City Clerk Michael Jinks. That “was essentially a three-side acrylic waiting area with plastic steps,” Jinks said.

“I’m impressed with what you’ve done here,” Boardman said. “It’s important to us that we maintain clean, safe facilities for our passengers.”

There are two Amtrak lines in Mississippi, the “City of New Orleans” line and the “Crescent” line. Brookhaven is a stop along the “City of New Orleans line that stretches through Mississippi from New Orleans to Chicago.

Total Amtrak station use throughout Mississippi came to 113,695 boardings in 2013. Amtrak employed 79 Mississippi residents in 2013.

“Long-distance trains form the backbone of the Amtrak national system, connect small towns to major cities, support local economic development, deliver passengers to state-supported corridor trains and conduct interstate trade and commerce,” Boardman noted in a press release.