No fast track for Amtrak's return to Mobile, at least for now.

The Mobile City Council was expected to vote Tuesday on authorizing a letter of support for a federal grant to restore rail service.

But the city would have to put up money, too.

The Stimpson administration asked that the decision be delayed a week because it was waiting on important information.

But FOX10 News has learned new details about costs and past ridership that might help the council make a decision.

There was a human train of about 15 people walking into the Government Plaza auditorium right before the city council meeting to show their support for restoring Amtrak service.

Mobile city officials are being asked to commit up to $3 million over three years to pay for operations of Amtrak starting in 2023.

Stephen McNair, a member of the Southern Rail Commission, which is applying for the grant, believes benefits will outweigh costs.

McNair said, "When you look at the greater economic impact of bringing in sales tax, bringing in lodging taxes, and bringing in thousands of tourists a year in Mobile, the return on investment more than pays for itself when you look at the bigger picture."

But Council Member Joel Daves says, by Amtrak's own estimates, for every one dollar that riders would pay, taxpayers would pay ten.

Daves said, "There's a federal subsidy the first three years, so we'd be maxed out at $3 million the first three years, but there's no federal subsidy after that, so, going year forward, 'til infinity, we, Mobile, would be paying $2.3 million just for the train to operate."

McNair says Amtrak estimates more than 38,000 people would ride the new passenger train between Mobile and New Orleans.

He says the Gulf Coast Limited ran between the two cities for ten months between 1996 and 1997, and ridership was just over 34,000.

And McNair says Gulf Coast population has grown more than 20 percent.

Marc Magliari, with Amtrak Corporate Communications, said, "The distance between Mobile and New Orleans is driving time competitive, once this train is running. Where ever we are driving time competitive with reasonable fares, we do very well attracting passengers."

Council Members Levon Manzie and Fred Richardson have expressed support for the idea.

Council Members Joel Daves and Gina Gregory have raised some concerns.

Five votes would be needed to authorize the letter of support.

All content © 2019, WALA; Mobile, AL. (A Meredith Corporation Station). All Rights Reserved.


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