Posts Tagged ‘Port of Mobile’

Alabama Senator Wants Traffic Study Completed

April 1, 2021

An Alabama senator wants Amtrak to complete a traffic study before it moves ahead on instituting new service between New Orleans and Mobile, Alabama.

U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Alabama) outlined his views in letters sent to Amtrak, the U.S. Surface Transportation Board, and host railroads CSX and Norfolk Southern.

Shelby, the vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, said a never-completed traffic study needs to be finished in order to alleviate his concerns that the Amtrak service could negatively affect the region’s growth and commerce. 

“I believe that initiating new Gulf Coast passenger-rail service should be guided by the best available data and information,” Shelby wrote.

“As one of the largest growing seaports in the United States, the Port of Mobile serves as an essential economic driver for the state of Alabama and region. As such, prior to establishing passenger-rail service in Mobile, I believe it is essential that a comprehensive analysis be completed that definitively determines the impact such service would have on existing freight rail service and the Port of Mobile. It is my hope that all parties involved can come to an amicable solution to ensure the study is completed.”

Officials at the Port of Mobile have for some time expressed concern that Amtrak operations would adversely affect CSX rail service to the port.

Shelby was apparently prompted to act after Amtrak asked the STB to compel CSX and NS to explain why they could not host the new service.

Amtrak wants to launch the service in 2022 and has said it has a legal right to use the route.

CSX and NS have balked, saying that a study of how Amtrak would affect freight operations of the host railroads needs to be completed before they will discuss what infrastructure improvements need to be made to accommodate passenger service.

Supporters of the service, including the Southern Rail Commission, have $66 million in funding set aside for those infrastructure projects.

 “It is my hope that all parties involved can come to an amicable solution to ensure the study is completed,” Shelby wrote.

Amtrak said it withdrew from the study because it was getting bogged down by changes to its parameters demanded by the host railroads.

Mobile City Council Approved Funding for Amtrak

February 8, 2020

The Mobile City Council this week approved a funding package to help underwrite the operating expenses of a proposed Mobile-New Orleans Amtrak service.

The council voted in favor of spending $3 million over a three-year period for the service, whose inauguration is projected to be in 2023.

The vote was critical because terms of a federal grant to get the service started require the states served to providing matching funds.

Although cities in and the states of Louisiana and Mississippi have agreed to provide matching funding, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey has thus far refused to do so.

Mobile is the first Alabama government entity to agree to provide funding.

The Gulf Coast region has been without intercity rail passenger service since Amtrak’s tri-week Sunset Limited was suspended east of New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in August 2005.

Restoration of Amtrak service to the Gulf Coast region has been a top priority of the Southern Rail Commission., which worked to obtain the federal grant.

Mobile must still conduct a study of how the proposed service might affect CSX freight operations at the Port of Mobile.

Potential interference with freight trains has been cited by Ivey and others for their reluctance to support state funding of the service.

Mobile Council to Vote on Amtrak Funding on Feb. 4

February 3, 2020

The Mobile City County last week delayed yet again a vote on a proposed to spend $3 million in city funds to help pay for Amtrak service between Mobile and New Orleans.

However, Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson said the day after the latest delay that he expected the council to “get to yes” when it votes on Feb. 4 on the proposal.

Five of the seven Mobile council members must vote in favor of a resolution on the funding in order for it to pass.

Stimpson has said he wants assurances that the service would not affect CSX freight traffic to the Port of Mobile.

“We’re looking for a confirmation, a pathway forward so that we don’t get surprised because really, as steward of the taxpayer dollars, it’s imperative that we do our homework to make sure that we get this piece right,” he said.

The Southern Rail Commission is leading the effort to get Amtrak service reinstated to the Gulf Coast region.

A federal grant will pay some of the costs of the service with the states of Mississippi and Louisiana already having agreed to provide matching funds.

However, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey had thus far refused to commit funding from Alabama, which has meant that getting funding from Mobile might be crucial for the project to move ahead.

The Gulf Coast region has been without intercity rail passenger since Amtrak’s Sunset Limited was suspended in August 2005 in the wake of damage to its route east of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina.

Supporters of the Mobile-New Orleans route, which would operate twice daily, have argued that it will bring tourist dollars and tax revenue.

Alabama State Port Authority CEO Jimmy Lyons has raised concerns about freight trains sharing the same tracks as passenger trains.

Stimpson said an expected study on the impact on freight traffic would “take a lot of the ambiguity” out of the debate even though that study will not be completed before the city council votes this week.

“I’m 100 percent sure we’ll have to make a decision without the benefit of that study,” Stimpson said. “It’s gonna be based on us getting more comfortable with where we are.”

Stimpson, however, rejected concerns raised by some opponents that the service would result in an unacceptably high level of taxpayer subsidy of service that is not expected to generate enough in ticket revenue to pay for its operating costs.

Stimpson said there is “no real way to know” what the long-term cost to the city would be.

“I think it’s probably close enough to take that risk,” he said.

He said he believes the benefits of having rail passenger service are more than the increased tax dollars the city would see from tourist traffic.

It would also be a “sales point” for the city because “not every city can say that,” he said. “And not every city has Amtrak, and a downtown airport like we hope to have one day.”

In advance of the vote in Mobile some Mississippi cities that would be stops for the trains are leaning the Mobile City Council to approve funding.

Officials in Biloxi, Pascagoula, and Bay St. Louis are trying Mobile to get onboard in funding the service.

A combination of city, county, and state governments in Mississippi and Louisiana have made financial commitments for the service.

“We think it’s vitally important Mobile votes for it,” said Biloxi spokesman Vincent Creel. “It creates that synergy from New Orleans to Mobile. It would create a unity for the cities along the Gulf Coast.”

Mobile Resolution To Come With Contingencies

December 24, 2019

The resolution that the city council of Mobile, Alabama, is expected to consider on Dec. 31 contains a clause that would revoke the city’s financial support of a proposed expansion of Amtrak service along the Gulf Coast if certain issues are to arise.

The city will consider committing $3 million toward the operating cost of the service, which is envisioned to begin in 2023 between New Orleans and Mobile.

The action comes as local and state governments along the proposed route face a Jan. 6 deadline to commit matching funds to a federal grant awarded earlier this year to get the service started.

The states of Mississippi and Louisiana have agreed to contribute their share of the funding but Alabama has balked.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey has raised concerns that the Amtrak route would adversely affect rail operations at the Port of Mobile.

Mobile city council members will vote on a letter of intent, but one council member has asked what happens after the first three years of the city’s commitment to fund operations of the route.

Other questions that have arisen include the cost of building a station in Mobile and how infrastructure improvements from the Mississippi border to Mobile will be handled.

Most of the operating costs of the route are expected to be paid for by a federal Restoration and Enhancement grant.

The concerns of Gov. Ivey have also been echoed by Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson and State Port Authority CEO Jimmy Lyons.

Wiley Blankenship, president and CEO of the Coastal Alabama Partnership and a member of the Southern Rail Commission  said the location of the Mobile station at the Brookley Aeroplex, instead of downtown would harm commercial activity at the port.

“The Port is a priority for me above passenger rail, ”he said. “If I felt that operating the train at Brookley would jeopardize the Port, I would not be standing here today. I would ask the governor to remove me from the office, and that I cannot serve.”