A subcommittee of the Mobile City Council on Tuesday left the fate of Amtrak passenger rail service returning to the Port City in flux. The committee met to discuss a letter of intent that would be included with the grant application to the federal governmentThat would commit the city to spending up to $3 million over the first three years of passenger service between New Orleans and Mobile. The meeting also gave an opportunity to members of the Southern rail Commission and Amtrak to address the council about it as well.
For the last several years, the Southern Raul Commission has been working on plans to reestablish Amtrak commuter train service from New Orleans Eastward. The original plan was to restore the old Sunset Limited service east of New Orleans All the way from Jacksonville and Orlando to New Orleans. Since then, the plants have been scaled down to only include restoring service between New Orleans and Mobile with three stops in Mississippi, Gulfport, Biloxi, and Pascagoula. Officials from Amtrak from both the regional level and the national level, were in attendance and spoke in favor of the service.they said that they saw the link between New Orleans and Mobile as the most profitable chain in the link to re-establishing passenger rail service along the Gulf Coast. They also said they Believe that they can attract more ridership than what they are projecting, because not only do they use conservative estimates according to them, they feel like they can boost ridership through connections to regional cities like Pensacola and Atmore to the train station in Mobile and boost on-board revenues with food and beverage service and advertising.
The move is not without It’s detractors. Chief among them is the Alabama State Port Authority, and it’s CEO Jimmy Lyons. The biggest concern from the Port Authority is interference with freight traffic coming into and out of the Port of Mobile. Recently, the Port of Mobile and the Port Authority got federal and state money to deepen and widen the ship channel into and out of the port. The Port Authority believes that Amtrak passenger rail service will interfere not only with the current freight traffic into and out of the port, but also any future expansion of freight service out of the port. Jimmy Lyons gave the example of the fact that the authority has several miles of track already located on their property that crosses over CSX rail lines, one of the rail companies that owns the lines that Amtrak would be operating on, and have to get permission from a CSX dispatcher to crossover and that Port Authority trains can wait up to an hour to get that approval.
The committee did not advance either a negative or positive recommendation to the full council on this matter as the motion by councilman Fred Richardson to advance it with a positive recommendation failed for a lack of a second. The full mobile city council should take up the matter at their meeting on Tuesday..