Marks-Amtrak stop

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 10, 2012

Amtrak topic of phone call

By John Howell Sr.

Quitman Chancery Clerk Butch Scipper joined Batesville’s mayor and aldermen Tuesday for a conference call to Senator Roger Wicker’s office, seeking an update on establishing an Amtrak passenger train stop in Marks.

Scipper has worked since 1995, when Amtrak first shifted its City of New Orleans passenger train to Marks, to make the town a flag stop — stopping briefly and only when passengers are scheduled to board or detrain. The attempt appeared to bear fruit in 1997 when negotiations between then-rail owner Illinois Central Gulf (ICG) Railroad and Amtrak led to Amtrak placing Marks on its printed timetable. However when ICG sold the line to Canadian National (CN) Railroad in 1998, the new owner stopped all projects to allow time for review. After several years, CN rejected the proposal, forcing Quitman County to begin anew.

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“Amtrak’s very willing,” Scipper said, “… but the new owners of that rail … have been very reluctant.”

“We’ve actually drawn plans for the stop three times, paid for them,” Scipper said. “This last one is ADA (American with Disabilities Act) compliant all the way through, “… which we think is a big plus.”
The stop will be operated by the City of Marks and Quitman County.

“Regionally, it would be great,” Scipper continued, “because right now you have to go to Memphis or Greenwood. Mass transportation is a problem here.”

“No public transportation here at all,” Alderman Stan Harrison said.

Mayor Jerry Autrey said that a Marks stop would attract Ole Miss students whose once-frequent use of Amtrak’s Batesville stop boosted ridership.

“A good many of our poorer people use that to go see kinfolks in other parts of the country; they don’t like to fly, … they would prefer to use the rails,” Scipper continued. “They did for years, but that is not an option for them unless they go to Greenwood or (Memphis), and that gets expensive for them.”

During the conference call, local officials spoke with Wicker’s Commerce Counsel, Greg Orlando, who reported a recent meeting between a CN lobbyist and William LaForge, a Washington attorney and lobbyist hired by Quitman County to represent its interest in getting the rail passenger stop.

Orlando said the next step would be a conference call with Amtrak, Marks and Quitman County and a CN “decision maker.”

“Right now, we need an outcome, some kind of certainty,” Orlando said. “It’s been up in the air too long.”