Rupert Howell column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Out of $53 billion, we’d at least like a train that would stop

Last month’s announcement by the Obama administration of a proposed six-year $53 billion plan to expand high-speed passenger trains has me scratching my head.

That’s 53 thousand millions for those mathematically ‘flicted such as I.

The President announced in his state of the Union address that he wants high-speed rail to serve 80% of the population by 2025.

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I’m willing to bet the 80% he’s talking about doesn’t include rural northwest Mississippi. Just guessing, I would say any high speed rail would run up the East Coast and another would run through the West Coast. Maybe a few of the larger municipalities would be connected in between.

We’ve been asking for a whistle stop, not a new line, not a new depot—just for the train to stop when coming through Marks for umpteen years and received nothing. If someone wants to catch a train, they currently can board in Memphis or Greenwood. Amtrak comes through Marks on the “Delta Line.” It may slow down, but it doesn’t stop.

With the state’s top Democrat, Bennie Thompson, representing the area, and senior Senator Thad Cochran representing our area and state, it appears that someone could stop the train. State Representative Warner McBride currently serves as Chairman of the House Transportation Committee whose oversight includes rails.

It would be a feather in the cap of Senator Roger Wicker whose former constituency as U.S. Representative of the First District included Batesville and Oxford.

Positive results by newly elected District One Representative Alan Nunnelee could endear him to train enthusiasts in his district’s under-served areas.

What makes matters worse is that there is no other form of public transportation in Panola County. There are no passenger airlines, there are no buses.

My old friend ‘Cat is not allowed to drive. He would like to go to New Orleans or the Gulf Coast to visit friends but he doesn’t have any means of public  travel. When he takes matters into his own hands, he winds up in the hoosegow or hospital with a steep fine, hospital bill and somebody’s vehicle being confiscated or hauled to the junk yard.

Steeper gas prices and continued unrest in the Middle East insure that fuel prices will continue to rise, at least for the immediate future.

We are stuck. Students at the University of Mississippi, residents of Oxford, residents of Panola and Quitman County and beyond are being under-served by subsidized public transportation while hundreds of millions are being spent elsewhere in our state and country.

All we want is the train to stop.