Amtrak passenger service returning to Mobile – AL.com

Science & Technology

An Amtrac conductor looks down the tracks before an eastbound train at the Regional Transportation Center in Syracuse takes off for New York City. (Syracuse.com | File photo)
An agreement has been struck between Amtrak, the freight operators and the Alabama State Port Authority to allow for passenger rail service along the Gulf Coast corridor, according to a statement on Tuesday.
The service will include the connection from New Orleans to Mobile, with four stops likely in coastal Mississippi, according to Knox Ross of the Southern Rail Commission.
“I can tell you truthfully I don’t know the details of this, but even if I did, I can’t share them,” said Ross, noting the confidentiality of a statement release this morning. “We are very pleased. This is a giant step forward in getting passenger rail back to Mobile.”
The Southern Rail Commission will be in Mobile to host a meeting on December 9, at which time Ross said he hopes more details about the restarted service are known.
Read more about Amtrak and the Gulf Coast:
The joint statement from Amtrak, CSX, Norfolk Southern, and the Alabama State Port Authority says the following:
We have collectively reached an agreement to support passenger and freight service in the Gulf Coast Corridor. The parties filed a motion today informing the Surface Transportation Board that a settlement agreement has been reached and asking that the case be held in abeyance while the parties execute the various conditions of that settlement agreement. Due to the confidential nature of the settlement agreement, the parties are not able to provide further comment on its terms at this time. We thank the federal mediators appointed by the Surface Transportation Board for their work on this effort.
No details were provided about when the passenger trains will return, or what kind of service will occur. A motion before the STB suggests that the settlement terms will “lead to a complete resolution” of the proceedings but that it will “take several months” to put them into motion.
The parties are also offering to submit a progress report by June 30, 2023, if the terms of the settlement are not fulfilled by then.
For years, Amtrak and passenger rail advocates have touted a twice-daily service between New Orleans and Mobile. Freight operators, and past and current officials with the Alabama State Port Authority, argued that extra passenger trains would disrupt activity into the Port of Mobile without improvements to the 120-mile train line.
The joint statement indicates the proceedings before the U.S. Surface Transportation Board are paused while final agreements are reached. The STB, a federal board that is overseeing the fate of the passenger rail service, had been overseeing Amtrak’s case for months and ordered mediation between the sides in May. Talks continued into this month ahead of the STB’s scheduled December 7 ruling in the case in Washington, D.C.
It is the first time in the STB’s 26-year history the federal agency involved in determining the control of a U.S. rail line pitting Amtrak against freight operators.
The Mobile City Council entered the fray in February 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic overwhelmed public policy. The council, on Feb. 4 of that year, voted 6-1 to support a resolution to back Amtrak’s Gulf Coast service with future city funds. The lone “No” vote came from Councilman Joel Daves, who argued the service would be nothing more than a “joyride for the affluent.”
Mobile Mayor Sandy Simpson issued a statement Tuesday afternoon. “I am very happy to see that Amtrak, CSX, Norfolk Southern and the Alabama State Port Authority have reached a settlement that could allow passenger rail services to return to Mobile,” he stated. “The City has always supported Amtrak resuming service in Mobile, provided that it wouldn’t negatively impact the cargo freight operations coming into and out of the Port of Mobile. We look forward to hearing more details about the proposed settlement in the near future.”
The Gulf Coast case has been viewed with national interest. At the crux of the arguments is whether a mandate established in 1971 should continue to require freight railroads to give passenger trains access to rail tracks in the U.S. Experts believe the Gulf Coast case could set a precedence for Amtrak’s operations throughout the country because it mostly operates on tracks owned by freight companies.
Passenger rail has been suspended along the Gulf Coast line since Hurricane Katrina’s devastation to it in 2005, and the potential for revitalizing Amtrak service has lingered for years. An inspection train, filled with politicians mostly from Mississippi, celebrated the prospects of restarting the rail line during a trip that occurred more than six years ago.
In fact, over the years, the project was celebrated mostly by public officials in Mississippi and Louisiana, while Alabama mostly opposed or raised concerns about how the restarted service would interfere with port operations in Mobile.
Republican U.S. Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi, in a statement, called the agreement an “overdue win” for Mississippi’s Gulf Coast communities, businesses and job creators.
“Residents of the Mississippi Gulf Coast have been without passenger rail service since Hurricane Katrina, and restoring it has been a top priority of mine,” Wicker said in a statement. “Now, more than 17 years after Katrina, I am pleased to have a commitment from all parties involved that Amtrak trains will return. This decision demonstrates what I have long believed — that freight and passenger rail can thrive together.”
He added, “I commend the leadership of Amtrak, the host railroads, and the Port of Mobile for their diligent work to reach this resolution. I would also like to express appreciation to the Southern Rail Commission. They have commissioned reports, participated in working groups, performed studies, and devoted thousands of hours to this effort. I will continue to support them as they work to implement this agreement and shift to overseeing the restored passenger service.”
SRC and Amtrak officials have, over the years, expressed how the revised Mobile-to-New Orleans route will be different from what Gulf Coast residents experienced before Hurricane Katrina. Service, they said, will be improved upon from the previous Amtrak routes that once rolled into Mobile: Gulf Coast Limited (1984-1985), Gulf Breeze (1989-1995), and the Sunset Limited. The latter was a long-distance service connecting Florida with Los Angeles, but was marred with on-time performance problems and stopped in Mobile only about three times a week.
The expectations are that the new operation includes two trains daily – with four stops in each city – during reasonable hours to accommodate business or tourism schedules. The trains will travel at speeds of up to around 79 mph, and the trip to New Orleans, with the stops in Mississippi — Pascagoula, Biloxi, Gulfport and Bay St. Louis — will last about 3 hours and 23 minutes.
An economic impact analysis of restoring the rail service, conducted in 2018 by the University of Southern Mississippi’s Trent Lott National Center, estimates Alabama would generate $5.48 million from improving the rail line alone. Overall, the total economic input from increased tourism spending would be $11.9 million for every 1% growth in tourism.
It’s unclear where the train station will be at in Mobile. There had been interested in developing an intermodal transportation center at a new international airport at the Mobile Aeroplex at Brookley south of downtown Mobile. Amtrak could also build a train stop at the foot of Water Street adjacent to Cooper Riverside Park.
This story was updated at 4:34 p.m. Nov. 22, 2022 to include a statement from Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson
This story was updated with additional information at 11:03 a.m. on November 22, 2022. It was also updated at 5:25 p.m. with a comment from U.S. Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi.
If you purchase a product or register for an account through one of the links on our site, we may receive compensation.
Registration on or use of this site constitutes acceptance of our User Agreement, Privacy Policy and Cookie Statement, and Your California Privacy Rights (User Agreement updated 1/1/21. Privacy Policy and Cookie Statement updated 7/1/2022).
Cookie Settings
© 2022 Advance Local Media LLC. All rights reserved (About Us).
The material on this site may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, cached or otherwise used, except with the prior written permission of Advance Local.
Community Rules apply to all content you upload or otherwise submit to this site.
Ad ChoicesAd Choices

source