MOBILE, Ala. (WALA)-- The Amtrak saga continues chugging along the Gulf Coast.
On Friday the passenger railroad company announced its plans to start taking people from Mobile to New Orleans by January.
On the surface it’s good news for people looking to make a quick trip, but some organizations like the Alabama State Port Authority are raising some serious concerns.
The train will link cities across the Gulf Coast for the first time in more than 16 years.
Amtrak says they’re on track to make it happen, saying they have the necessary funding for at least the first three years of service so far.
They plan to pin the rail station at the downtown airport at Brookley Field, making two round trips per day over the 140 mile single track route on CSX’s freight corridor, with a goal of 38,000 riders per year.
"Wooh! I'm very excited about the train."
"It would be a great asset to the city."
People across the port city tell FOX10 News they’re all for Amtrak coming to mobile, but not everyone is all aboard.
"I might do it just for the novelty of it to be honest with you. I don't think I would do it regularly though."
"It would be a great asset to the city."
Some organizations are blowing their horns.
The Alabama Port Authority being one of them.
The port authority oversees the public terminals at the Port of Mobile, one of the nation’s largest seaports, served by 9 railroads.
Last month the port authority learned that Amtrak decided not to continue a study it was working on with Norfolk Southern and CSX to determine the impacts of the passenger rail system on the Port of Mobile and other freight customers.
It’s a decision the port authority says is “deeply disappointing.”
That sentiment is backed even by Amtrak’s study partners.
In a letter to the Alabama Port Authority, Norfolk Southern said the study is “critical for the passenger rail service to be successful,” saying that it is “necessary” for it to be done before starting service.
CSX says it’s “perplexed by” Amtrak’s “unwillingness to reinstate” the study, saying the results would provide necessary information to plan for the passenger service and operate safely and reliably.
The Alabama District Export Council wrote a letter to Governor Kay Ivey, on behalf of numerous organizations, explaining that they had “deep reservations” about the rail service, saying they believe it will cause delays and added congestion to Alabama's only seaport, adversely impacting business.
Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson says while the city is “pleased to see momentum in bringing Amtrak back” the city wants “more information from Amtrak” on how it will work through the concerns raised.
The Alabama Port Authority says it wouldn’t oppose Amtrak coming to mobile if the study and other engineering assessments are completed.
The port authority says during the meeting with Amtrak today a state delegate asked Amtrak to resume the study but did not get an answer.
If you’d like to see the port’s full statement and the letters sent to them by CSX and Norfolk Southern click the links below.
FULL STATEMENT FROM ALABAMA STATE PORT AUTHORITY:
"The Alabama State Port Authority is deeply disappointed in Amtrak’s decision to bypass the necessary study requirements to initiate new service on the CSX mainline in Alabama. On February 10, 2021, Amtrak informed the Port Authority that the study expired and it would discontinue the Rail Traffic Control (RTC) study citing funding shortfalls and study delays. The Port Authority understood the RTC portion of the study was 2 months from completion. The Port Authority oversees the public terminals at the Port of Mobile, one of the nation’s larger seaports. Our public terminals are served by eight railroads in addition to the CSX. All rail traffic supporting import/export activities at the public terminals must cross the CSX. The Port Authority’s Terminal Railway also travels the single track CSX mainline to serve the container intermodal complex and McDuffie Terminal. With over $1.3 billion invested in public terminals and the federal channel, the cargo and vessel activities of the Port Authority’s terminals generates over 150,000 jobs and $25.4 billion in economic value. It would be interesting to know how passenger rail’s economic impact compares.
It is unfortunate that Amtrak continues to tell the public that the “parties have walked away from the study.” The truth is that Amtrak has walked away from the study. Attached are CSX and Norfolk Southern Letters to ASPA advising they have asked Amtrak to return to and complete the study.
The chair of the Southern Rail Commission, Wiley Blankenship, Mobile, Ala, invited the Port Authority to today’s Southern Rail Commission meeting held via Zoom and chaired by the delegate from Louisiana. Mr. Blankenship could not attend due to a prior engagement, but David Clark and Stephen McNair did attend. The Alabama delegation is supporting its port. Mr. Clark did ask Amtrak to finish the study. He did not get a response. Mr. John Spain, the acting chair of the SRC and delegate from LA, acknowledged Mr. Clark’s remarks noting the SRC’s earliest mission statement was “it has to work for the freights as well as the passenger service.” An invitation was extended to John Driscoll, director and CEO of the Port Authority, so the Port could ask (in public forum) the Commission to support the study and ask Amtrak, who was presenting at the meeting, to return to the study. Mike Lee, chair of the Alabama District Export Council was also in attendance ready to ask this same question. The meeting did not afford for public comment or questions, albeit Zoom platforms allow two way communications. Instead, the attending public and media were told to direct their questions or comments to Amtrak after the meeting."