Starting Thursday, Amtrak passengers traveling with firearms can once again bring their weapons on board certain trains. 

At the direction of Congress, the railroad set into motion a plan that allows passengers traveling to and from stations with checked luggage facilities to pack their firearms in locked, hard-sided containers. They had been banned following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. 

Like baggage checked at the airport, once the passenger drops the bag off he or she does not have access to it until it is picked up at the final destination.

Amtrak spent about $2 million over the past year developing the policy, training the workforce, reconfiguring cars and upgrading other equipment in preparation for this change. 

Following are important rules to keep in mind when traveling with a firearm on Amtrak:

-- Passengers must give Amtrak 24-hours notice that they will be checking firearms or ammunition.  Notice must be given by calling Amtrak (1-800-USA-RAIL). Online reservations are not accepted.

-- All firearms and/or ammunition must be checked at least 30 minutes prior to departure.  Some stations require baggage be checked earlier; 

-- Firearms and ammunition can only be transported on trains and at stations where checked baggage service is offered.  Not all stations or trains offer this service.

-- Firearms must be unloaded and in an approved, locked hard-sided container.  The passenger must have sole possession of the key or combination for the lock.  The container may not weigh more than 50 lbs.

-- Passengers must travel on the same train that is transporting the checked firearms/ammunition.

-- At check-in, passengers will be required to complete and sign a two-part declaration form;

-- BB guns and compressed air guns, including paintball markers. will be treated as firearms and must comply with the firearms/ammunition policy;

Senator Roger Wicker, R-Miss., wrote the provision requiring Amtrak to change its policy into an appropriations measure in December 2009. He says its an important step forward in allowing hunters and sportsmen the same travel options available to everyone else.

"While airlines offer an option to transport a properly stored gun, rail passengers have not had the same opportunity," Sen. Wicker said.  "I applaud Amtrak for its work for nearly a year to ensure firearms can be transported safely."

But anti-gun advocates at the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence aren't sure Amtrak's policy is the safest method for transporting guns safely, citing the lack of any hearings on the issue as a cause for concern.

"We're not opposed to the transporting of guns on Amtrak if it can be done in a way that's secure," said Daniel Vice, senior attorney with the Brady Center.  "Our concern is that this amendment was attached to a funding bill with virtually no hearings on the safety and security of the policy."