Alabama Port Authority, previously against Amtrak, now willing to finance train service

The Alabama Port Authority, which was previously against the idea of Amtrak trains sharing the railroad with freight trains, has now changed its stance and has agreed to contribute towards funding passenger rail. This decision marks a significant shift in their position on the matter.

In a surprising move, the board of the port unanimously agreed to allocate $1 million over the course of three years towards the proposed Amtrak route between Mobile and New Orleans. This amount accounts for about a third of Alabama’s contribution towards subsidizing the project. This decision marks a significant shift for the agency, which had previously aligned with CSX and Norfolk Southern in opposing Amtrak.

Mobile City Councilman William Carroll expressed his satisfaction with the news, as he was initially hesitant about the city covering the entire cost.

During an interview with FOX10 News, the City Council member expressed his gratitude for the support. He acknowledged the financial burden of the cost and mentioned his intention to explore solutions to alleviate it.

The City Council has not yet set a timeline for when they will consider the Amtrak subsidy or the final ground lease for the train stop next to the Arthur Outlaw Mobile Convention Center. According to Carroll, it is unclear whether the proposal has sufficient support to pass the council. Nonetheless, he believes that progress is being made towards establishing passenger rail service.

Amtrak’s plan entails operating two trains daily from Mobile to New Orleans, making stops in Pascagoula, Biloxi, Gulfport, and Bay St. Louis in Mississippi. The same schedule would apply for two trains traveling in the opposite direction.

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The Southern Rail Commission, a collaboration between Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, has designated Amtrak to operate the trains. However, in contrast to the other states, Alabama has yet to provide any funds. This leads to the entire financial obligation falling on the taxpayers of Mobile.

Despite the port’s commitment on Tuesday, there are still at least two council members who are against the use of city funds.

Councilman Ben Reynolds expressed his confusion and disbelief regarding the idea of the city of Mobile being responsible for subsidizing an operation that has not been implemented anywhere else in the country. “I can’t understand or get beyond the fact that the city of Mobile would be on the hook to subsidize this operation when it doesn’t exist across the country that I’m aware of where another city is the signer or the one obligated to pay the money,” he stated.

Amtrak has stated that Indiana previously had a similar agreement in place, which enabled train services to operate at the cost of local governments. However, this service is no longer in operation.

Councilman Joel Daves and Reynolds have been firm adversaries, mainly because the expenses of the city are expected to surge once the federal aid is discontinued.

In the past, the Port Authority was against Amtrak service along the Gulf Coast, along with CSX Transportation and Norfolk Southern Railway. However, they were able to come to a resolution before the Surface Transportation Board in 2022.

The port has a lot to gain if the Amtrak deal is finalized. A whopping $70 million in federal funds will be allocated for the improvement of rail lines, which will be a significant boost to the port’s infrastructure.

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On Tuesday, the Port Authority resolution made a reference to those funds. Proponents of Amtrak have been using this investment as a justification for supporting the Amtrak plan. While it is indeed a beneficial factor, Reynolds pointed out that there are limitations to its impact.

He stated that it definitely adds to the appeal, particularly for the port and Alabama as a whole. While it’s possible that the city could see some benefits, he finds it ridiculous to suggest that Mobile should be responsible for funding it.

According to a spokesperson for Governor Kay Ivey who spoke to FOX10 News on Tuesday, there is a chance that the state may provide funding for the project. While the budget for the upcoming fiscal year has already been established, Governor Ivey is still considering all potential options for future funding.

Visit Mobile’s President and CEO, David Clark, who is also a member of the Southern Rail Commission, expressed his appreciation for the port’s dedication.

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