MOBILE, Ala. (WKRG) — Passenger rail service through Mobile may be a step closer to becoming a reality. Amtrak and members of the Southern Rail Commission are holding public hearings this week. This is about not just the proposed rail service but also trying to address the opposition by freight train operators Norfolk Southern and CSX.

This is a project that’s been talked about for nearly two decades. Mobile has been without passenger rail service since Hurricane Katrina damaged the track. People in favor of the rail service say this is an important amenity that’s been discussed and studied for many years.

Amtrak announced they were interested in bringing rail services to the gulf coast, with stops in La., Miss. and Ala. The services would connect Mobile to New Orleans, with four stops in Mississippi –Pascagoula, Biloxi, Gulfport, and Bay St. Louis. There will be two days of public hearings starting at 8:30 Tuesday and Wednesday morning, they are open to the public via Livestream. This is the first of a number of hearings.

The hearings will be streamed here.

Amtrak says they have a right to use these tracks for passenger rail service and says the freight operators have to prove why they couldn’t accommodate passenger service under the law.

In a filing sent last year, freight train operators say they opposed this rail service because they say it would substantially impair freight service unless Amtrak agrees to fund more infrastructure improvements.

CSX sent us this statement: “CSX is not against the introduction of new passenger service on the Gulf Coast. In fact, CSX is confident new service can be introduced. But it must be done in a safe and efficient manner which will require sufficient infrastructure investment. It has been a standard practice in the industry to complete a Rail Traffic Controller (RTC) model to determine the impacts of new passenger service on freight customers and communities and what infrastructure would be required to accommodate the service. Amtrak abandoned a nearly completed study that would have established this for the proposed new Gulf Coast service and instead, on March 16, 2021, petitioned the Surface Transportation Board to allow Amtrak to operate 28 new trips per week between New Orleans and Mobile without consideration of impacts to freight rail service or surrounding communities. This has precedent setting implications related to modeling and impact mitigation connected to establishing new national passenger rail service across the entire country raising concerns from the Port of Mobile, many shippers, elected officials and other stakeholders. We ask the STB to exercise its independence in this proceeding and put an end to the extreme position being advanced by Amtrak so that a reasonable solution can be reached.”

While the City of Mobile seems to support passenger rail service, the state itself seems split. Alabama’s congressional delegation including Mobile’s Jerry Carl sent a letter voicing caution saying being too hasty in approving passenger rail service could impact the port and the ability to move goods by rail that arrive by ship.

Judy Adams with the Alabama Port Authority sent this statement:

The Port Authority appreciates the strong community and business support of our seaport during today’s public comment session. It was very satisfying to hear experts state that rail infrastructure investment is needed to accommodate passenger rail.

The Surface Transportation Board recognized the Alabama State Port Authority as a party to this proceeding, and that board will consider the Port Authority’s evidence on March 9. The Port intends to show that adding passenger rail service in the CSX corridor without proper investment in that corridor will operationally harm the commerce in and out of the Port of Mobile.

Hopefully, the STB will set a clear path forward to assure infrastructure investments are made to meet the needs of our port and our rail shippers, and to accommodate new passenger rail service.