MOBILE, Ala. (WKRG) — The future of the return of passenger rail service to Mobile is up in the air after Mobile City Council pushes their vote again.
Mobile City Council voted to push the vote back one week to Feb. 4. The vote needs to happen that day, because the deadline for the federal grant is Feb. 5.
A group in support of the return of passenger rail service to Mobile formed a human train right before the council meeting.
To encourage council members to vote yes on the letter of support to the U.S. Department of Transportation for the grant application of the Southern Rail Commission to restore passenger rail service.
“I think it’s a no-brainer, there are ways in which if this train doesn’t end up coming to Mobile, the city is not left holding the bag for $3 million commitment,” said Bill Boswell, who supports passenger rail service to Mobile.
Person after person stood in front of city council Monday, showing their support for the service, and excitement, for a train between New Orleans and Mobile. It would run twice a day with stops in Pascagoula, Biloxi, Gulfport, and Bay St. Louis.
Service stopped after Hurricane Katrina damaged tracks along the Gulf Coast in 2005. Mobile is asked to pay $3 million over three years.
“Look at the cash return from a ticket, sure maybe the train is not going to be self-sustainable…. bringing in thousands of tourists a year, the return on investment more than pays for itself when you look at the bigger picture. And we’ve proven that if we have a 1% increase in tourism, then the train becomes self-sustainable based on tax revenue,” said Stephen McNair, a member of the Southern Rail Commission.
Mississippi is in for $15 million and Louisiana for $10 million. $33 million will come from federal funds in the form of a grant from the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements program.
Mobile is being asked to commit up to $3 million from 2023-2025, depending on ridership. The State of Alabama and Mobile County could also be asked to contribute. Governor Kay Ivey has shown little interest in the past in funding Amtrak. If they do not vote to make a decision by next Tuesday, the operational cost would double from $3 million to $6 million.
The Southern Rail Commission says if they cannot find the additional funding for the project, Mobile will not be out the $3 million.
“The remaining capital for the infrastructure related to the building of a platform and a station but also the necessary infrastructure to make sure the train runs on time and safely can come from any number of sources, whether its the state, whether its the county, whether it is the local government, private sources,” said McNair.
Mobile, now, says it still needs more time to make that decision.
“There were a couple of items that were lingering that the mayor’s office and the administration wanted to find definitive answers for and after getting those answers, they would disseminate it to the council so that hopefully, we would be able to make an even more educated decision that relates to this very important subject matter,” said Council President Levon Manzie.
“If there are some questions that are lingering that would make the difference for the councilmen 5 that we need, I’m ok with that,” said Boswell.
As of right now, the Southern Rail Commission plans to put the train terminal at Brookley Airfield.
“We are in active conversations with the Mobile Airport Authority to find that location for an intermodal terminal between the airport and passenger rail service. In terms of what that will look like and how it will be funded, those questions have not been funded. However, in order for this train to run, we technically do not need a multi-million dollar station. All we need is an ADA accessible, raised platform which can be placed for a nominal fee at the Brookley site,” said McNair.
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