News & Reviews News Wire Latest Gulf Coast report to STB ‘hopeful’ of progress

Latest Gulf Coast report to STB ‘hopeful’ of progress

By Bob Johnston | May 6, 2024

Zoning board meeting today to consider station site; city council must still vote on lease, grant application

Email Newsletter

Get the newest photos, videos, stories, and more from brands. Sign-up for email today!

Illustration of planned Amtrak station platform and parking lot in Mobile, Ala.
The layover track and platform shown would be built to provide access to three coaches of a train with a locomotive at each end. AECOM

MOBILE, Ala.  —“Hopeful” is the key word in the status report on Gulf Coast passenger service submitted by Amtrak, CSX, Norfolk Southern, and the Port of Mobile to the Surface Transportation Board last week.

The May 1 report was required by the STB after a February hearing and subsequent explanation of delays was short on specifics [see “Gulf Coast impasse at Mobile …,Trains News Wire, March 18, 2024]. It says “significant progress” and “biweekly coordination calls” have taken place with the Federal Railroad Administration regarding necessary alterations to a years-old Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvement (CRISI) grant.

In a step toward ending the long delay over a Mobile station site, the City of Mobile’s Board of Zoning Adjustment is scheduled to hold a hearing today (Monday, May 6) to approve a special zoning exception for the proposed Mobile station track and platform. The board’s decision regarding the site, currently a parking lot partially owned by the city, will trigger a state-mandated,15-day appeal period. If the board approves the exception, and no appeals are filed, Amtrak will, at the end of the 15 days, file a request for a “categorial exclusion” with the FRA under the route’s environmental review process.

aerial view of land along railroad tracks near water
A CSX train with Union Pacific power passes the former Mobile, Ala., station site on June 7, 2021. This is where a new platform and layover track would be built. Bob Johnston

Granting of the exclusion would confirm that no adverse environmental impacts would occur if the platform and layover track were built as shown in the proposed plan agreed to by Amtrak and CSX. Amtrak expects the FRA approval of exclusion, and adjustments to the CRISI grant, by the end of May. A previous status report in March suggested the CRISI approval would occur by April 26.

Additionally, the report says says meetings have taken place every two weeks since March 15 between Amtrak and the city “to finalize both the Lease Agreement for the Mobile Station Project and the Restoration and Enhancement Grant Matching Fund Agreement.” Additional meetings are scheduled for today and Tuesday.

What hasn’t been spelled out — and isn’t in this report — is the reason all those meetings have been needed. Mobile’s city council must re-approve what had been a $3 million match to a federal grant that provides operating assistance “to initiate, restore, or enhance intercity passenger rail service.” Mississippi and Louisiana have previously agreed to supply the match, which covers operating support for six years on a sliding scale: 90% in the first year of operation to 30% in the sixth year.

Mobile officials have voiced objections to Amtrak service, primarily over potential harm to the Port of Mobile, a primary source of commerce, based on initial contentions from the port and CSX during 2022 hearings that the two daily passenger round trips would disrupt freight service. But a settlement later that year — while still largely confidential — provided improvements benefitting both the railroad and the port through the CRISI grant [see “Gulf Coast grant application details planned infrastructure projects,” News Wire, Dec. 24, 2022]. Those capacity upgrades can’t begin until Mobile agrees to a station lease, so the port has a vested interest in communicating the need for expeditious approval to city leaders.

Meanwhile, a Friends of Amtrak public Facebook group has been gaining followers to locally promote the economic development and mobility benefits other Gulf Coast communities have embraced and are eagerly awaiting.

The report to the STB concludes, “Amtrak is hopeful that the Mobile City Council will schedule a vote to approve both the Lease Agreement and the Restoration and Enhancement Grant Match Funding Agreement in May 2024, and is hopeful that these agreements will be executed in June 2024.”

3 thoughts on “Latest Gulf Coast report to STB ‘hopeful’ of progress

    1. OH SORRY SORRY SORRY — Clicked on the wrong article. I meant this post for the Ancora/ NS article.

      Sorry Chris Thompson, didn’t mean to step on your comment (below) on the Gulf Coast article. Apoligies.

  1. Folks I’d love to see this train happen. But most of our local government officials here in south Alabama are following the anti Amtrak lead of our Governor Kay Ivey.
    Ivey has come out against Amtrak while pushing to spend over a billion dollars on a new highway up the west side of Alabama between Mobile and Tuscaloosa. Even some in her own party have said this new road isn’t needed.
    But Ivey has stated in the past that she believes that passenger trains are a thing of the past and highways are the future. That’s easy to say when you take a private state plane every where you go.
    I’m still hopeful of one day being able to take a trip to N.O. and back on the train again. But not optimistic.

You must login to submit a comment