Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak in Alabama’

Funding Quest Continues in Alabama

February 14, 2020

The fight for local funding in Alabama to help pay for a proposed new Amtrak service between New Orleans and Mobile, Alabama, is far from over.

Proponents of the service are now asking the Mobile County Commission to also commit to providing funding.

Two of the three commissioners told local reporters this week that they think it is too early for the commission to decide on providing funding.

Commissioners Merceria Ludgood and Connie Hudson said there has been no “formal” presentation or request of the commission although a third commissioner, Jerry Carl, supports the service and said he expects the county will potentially spending up to $3 million over a three-year period to support the construction of a new train station or platform.

“Our original conversation was for the county to come up with $1 million a year for three years,” Carl said. “That would build a train station and would be the maximum we could put into it. But we are waiting on (passenger rail advocates) to figure out their numbers. We’ll have our legal team talking to the city to make sure they OK with it. Nothing is guaranteed on (the project) until we see final numbers.”

Wiley Blankenship, an Alabama member of the Southern Rail Commission said his group will be approaching the commission sooner rather than later.

The Commission has been leading the efforts to return Amtrak service to the Gulf Coast.

The region has been without rail passenger service since the Sunset Limited was suspended in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in August 2005.

“We don’t want to ask (for county assistance) until they are fully educated (on the issue) and that we give them all the information so they can evaluate it and so they can make the best decision for the taxpayers,” Blankenship said. “We’re planning on doing that over the next few weeks.”

Last week the Mobile City County approved a resolution committing the city to spending $3 million over three years to help pay for the service, which is projected to get started in 2023.

However, that financial commitment is contingent on other governmental or private entities agreeing to spend up to $2.2 million on capital improvements for the route.

That might involve having to get state funding for capital improvements, which might be a uncertain proposition given that Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey last year declined to support state funding for the service.

The capital improvement needs are expected to be spelled out in a study now being undertaken of how Amtrak service would affect host railroads CSX and Norfolk Southern.

That study is expected to be finished this summer.

“Depending on what comes out of the study, I think the state will step in and it will be determined what role the state and county will play in terms of infrastructure,” Hudson said.

The Ivey administration said last week it is waiting to see where the county commission stands on the project.

Capital improvements for the New Orleans-Mobile route have already been projected at $5.786 million of which $2.89 million will come from a $33 million grant from the Federal Railroad Administration, and $671,000 from Amtrak.

The states of Louisiana and Mississippi along with the online Mississippi cities of Pascagoula, Biloxi, Gulfport and Bay St. Louis have agreed to providing funding for the route.

Mobile Delays Action on Funding Amtrak Route

January 2, 2020

The city county in Mobile, Alabama, has delayed until Jan. 28 a vote on funding for Amtrak service.

The council had been set to vote on contributing city funding to a new New Orleans to Mobile route on Dec. 31, but delayed the action after learning that the deadline to commit the funding has been extended.

The deadline had been Jan. 6 but has been extended to Feb. 5. Most of the funding for the service is expected to come from a federal grant, but the states of Louisiana and Mississippi have also agreed to provide matching funds.

Alabama, though, has balked at providing funding. State funding would be independent of any funding provided by Mobile.

Mobile is considering providing between $2 million and $3 million to help pay for the operating expenses of the route for its first three years.

Wiley Blankenship, an Alabama commissioner to the Southern Rail Commission, told council members in an email that an additional $1.9 million has been added to the federal Restoration and Enhancement Grant program to bring the total amount available to $26.3 million.

He said the grant funds are competitive and Gulf Coast rail service is not the only regional-based Amtrak service seeking funding.

Blankenship said at least two services on the East Coast have expressed interest and meet qualifications for the program.

Some Alabama public officials have expressed concerns about how implementation of Amtrak service would affect rail freight operations at the Port of Mobile.

A study of the effect of Amtrak operations on CSX freight service on the route is expected to be completed in about six months.

Blankenship said the SRC may approach the state of Alabama about providing funding for capital improvements to the tracks to be used by Amtrak.

He also said an Amtrak official is expected to attend a Mobile City Council meeting in January to answer questions.

Alabama Studies Reinstating Gulf Breeze Route

November 20, 2018

Alabama officials are eyeing a return of Amtrak service between Mobile and Birmingham via Montgomery.

A consultant is conducting a study of intercity rail service on a route that has not had it since 1995 when the Gulf Breeze was discontinued.

The study is being conducted under contract by engineering firm AECOM. Funding the study is the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs.

An earlier study completed in 2014 examined the potential route and estimated one-way fares at $25-$30 per person.

During a public hearing in Montgomery, AECOM planning transportation manager Brian Smart said such decisions as the type of equipment used, train speed, and route choice hinge on demand for the service.

“We’re hearing demand. The population is increasing and with that comes changes in how people want to travel and how people get to work in south Alabama,” Smart said.

He said it takes 10-15 years to go from the feasibility study phase to the inauguration of service.

Getting to the latter depends on obtaining support from state, local and federal stakeholders.

The current study is expected to be completed by spring 2019 and then submitted to the Federal Railroad Administration.

Planners are considering making the Alabama service a part of the Amtrak Crescent, which operates between New York and New Orleans.

However, it might also connect with or be an extension of a service that doesn’t exist but has been proposed between New Orleans and Jacksonville, Florida.

The Gulf Breeze during its lifetime was a section of the Crescent.

“If you connect to the main Amtrak line, you have access to go anywhere in the country, 500 destinations where you don’t have to drive or fly,” said City of Montgomery Planning Director Robert Smith.