Posts Tagged ‘Wiley Blankenship’

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.

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.”

Mobile Meeting Set to Address Concerns

July 9, 2019

A fact-funding meeting has been scheduled in Mobile, Alabama, on July 12 to address concerns raised in the Gulf Coast city about a prospective return of Amtrak service there.

The purpose of the meeting to which more than 40 community leaders have been invited is to “listen to the absolute factual information on operational costs, fares, ridership, and everything that will pertain to the New Orleans-to-Mobile route,” said Wiley Blankenship, president and CEO of the Coastal Alabama Partnership and a member of the Southern Rail Commission.

Although the states of Mississippi and Louisiana have committed state funds for the project, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey earlier this year declined to approve a $2.7-million share of the funding.

Some Mobile officials have cited concerns about high ticket prices and asked if Amtrak trains will interfere with access to a ship terminal.

In response to a comment by Mobile City Councilman Joel Daves that fares might be $180 tickets based on the cost of Amtrak fares for similar distances elsewhere, Blankenship said comparable fares for state-supported services range from $25 to $45.

Mobile was served by Amtrak’s Sunset Limited until August 2005 when damage inflicted by Hurricane Katrina prompted suspension of the service east of New Orleans.