Alabama funding refusal; missed CRISI deadline sets Gulf Coast Amtrak restoration back

Written by Mischa Wanek-Libman, editor
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An Amtrak train in Mobile, Ala., during a 2016 tour across four states meant to rally support behind restoring passenger rail service along the Gulf Coast.
Southern Rail Commission/Tim Mueller

An effort to restore Amtrak service along the Gulf Coast absorbed a series of blows toward its progress with Alabama refusing to commit financially to the project along with the deadline passing to take advantage of a possible government grant.

In a statement, the Southern Rail Commission (SRC) said it “regrets that it was unable to apply for the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA)’s FY17 Consolidated Rail Infrastructure Safety and Improvements (CRISI) funding due to the lack of state funding commitments from Mississippi and Alabama.”

According to SRC, the two states would have needed to commit a combined $20 million to qualify for the CRISI funds. Louisiana had previously promised $9.5 million and Mississippi pledged $3 million with the possibility of more.

The Gulf Coast Passenger Rail project was designed to connect New Orleans to Mobile, Ala., and ultimately expand to Tallahassee and Jacksonville, Fla.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey explained that while she was convinced of the project’s benefits, the state has too many competing transportation priorities.

“I have carefully evaluated the impact of restoring passenger rail service between Mobile and New Orleans and the potential economic benefits it may produce…consideration must also be given to the impact passenger rail service will have on the commercial and freight rail service that share the same track. It has become clear to me that, though some economic benefit may be realized by new passenger rail service, such service will have an outsized detrimental impact on other types of rail service,” said Gov. Ivey.

She said the state had “higher priority opportunities” to address congestion through port and highway projects around the state.

“I am hopeful that one day we may have the luxury of providing financial support for passenger rail service, but now is not the time when we have other challenges which must take priority,” concluded Gov. Ivey.

Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson expressed his appreciation of Gov. Ivey’s consideration of the project, but reiterated his belief that passenger and freight rail service can co-exist “if done right” and vowed to work with the governor and other state partners to move the project forward.

“Bottom line: We have more work to do to make it a reality,” said Mayor Stimpson.

SRC is also not ready to give up on the project and said it is poised to take advantage of future government funding opportunities should the states be ready to make the financial commitment.

“The SRC stands ready to apply for the FY18 round of funding should Mississippi and Alabama commit the required matching funds,” said SRC Chairman John Spain. “I know I speak for my fellow commissioners when I say I’m very disappointed to not take advantage of this funding for which Gulf Coast Passenger Rail is so perfectly suited. We’ll turn our sights to the 2018 fiscal year, and I’m hopeful we will have full support to apply for CRISI funds at that time.”

Categories: Class 1, Intercity, OFF Track Maintenance, Regulatory
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