Passenger rail service between Mobile and New Orleans took a big step forward this week. The Mobile City Council voted to pay up to $3 million to cover some operating costs for the first three years of service. However, you may not want to get in line to buy a ticket just yet. “There’s a lot more work to do," said Amtrak spokesperson Marc Magliari.
He said money still has to be found for a new train station in Mobile and other improvements. Amtrak will also work with freight operators CSX and Norfolk Southern on a study to determine the impact of having Amtrak on the same route as cargo trains.
“We have to worry about getting the infrastructure money necessary for this to happen,” Magliari said. “We have to see what the results of the latest study on infrastructure improvements say. That should be available once the work is done by us, CSX and NS later this year. Probably by the end of the summer if not sooner. Then we’ll have a reset to talk about what happens next.”
Mobile has not had passenger train service since 2005. That’s when the Sunset Limited passed through three times a week between California and Florida. The new service would have two trains a day running between Mobile and New Orleans.
Jim Mathews, President/CEO of DC-based Rail Passengers Association said that "although the politicking for the past few weeks made it a real nail-biter, the Mobile City Council did the right thing and voted 6-1 to move forward with its share of the funding to bring rail service back to at least a small segment of the Gulf Coast -- Mobile to New Orleans. It's a huge win for all the communities from Alabama through Mississippi and Louisiana that I've been visiting for years to push this along. And it wouldn’t have happened without the work of our members, the Southern Rail Commission, Transportation for America, Amtrak, and forward-looking elected officials in Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. We can’t thank these people enough, and we’re ready to get to work to get this train up and running. There's one other small hurdle -- Mobile is requiring a study proving that the service won't tangle up the Port of Alabama -- but we all know that four trains a day won't crimp the port."
Mathews went on to say "but this is a great time to foot-stomp something else that came out of this episode. Pressure from regular citizens living and working in Mobile really helped to make this happen. AL.com columnist John Archibald made an absolutely crucial point this afternoon, a point that's relevant not only for Gulf Coast restoration but for all of our efforts as an Association to Connect America with more trains, better trains and better infrastructure. It’s almost like – I can’t believe I’m seeing this – the people got what they wanted, Archibald wrote. It’s almost like – I can’t believe I’m saying it – the government grudgingly listened."
"Our team here at the Association -- spearheaded by VP Policy Sean Jeans-Gail and our field team of organizers Joe Aiello and Madi Butler -- worked closely with dozens of advocates at the organizations I named," said Mathews. "Everyone involved has worked for more than a decade to get to this vote, and all I can think about is all of the wonderful folks I've met in these communities along the Gulf Coast waiting for service to resume. They're going to get their way."