The construction of a train stop, and a track leading to it in downtown Mobile, Ala., officials say, is the “final infrastructure issue that needs to be addressed before Amtrak can restart passenger trains along the Gulf Coast for the first time in 18 years, according to an AL.com report.
According to the report, Mobile, which last had a train station in 2005 before it was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, is “the only city along the route to New Orleans without infrastructure built to accommodate an Amtrak train.” Other cities along the Gulf Coast route, including Pascagoula, Biloxi, Gulfport and Bay St. Louis, have train stops or depots “ready to go” in preparation for Amtrak’s restart.
“The train needs a place to serve Mobile,” said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari, who described Mobile as a “key element” toward Amtrak bringing service back to the Gulf Coast after “years of planning, discussions, and negotiations with freight operators and the Alabama State Port Authority,” according to the AI.com report.
“In terms of stations, Mobile is the last one to be finished,” said Magliari, adding that the other capital infrastructure along the track can be finished while Amtrak trains are rolling along the Gulf Coast route.
According to the AL.com report, a federal grant indicated that a total of $225 million in capital projects are needed to the route for the twice-daily operation between Mobile and New Orleans to operate on a schedule of three hours and 23 minutes between the two cities. The service also includes the four stops in Mississippi.
According to the AL.com report, Amtrak officials and Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s administration met last week to discuss what a train stop, or a trains station could look like adjacent to Cooper Riverside Park at the foot of Water and Government streets.
A spokeswoman with Stimpson’s office, Candace Cooksey, described the meeting as “preliminary” to determine “what we need to pull together and what our next steps are,” adding that the city’s attorneys and real estate officials are working with Amtrak to analyze the train stop site, and “presumably determine some kind of lease agreement,” according to the report.
According to the AL.com report, Mobile’s former director of Real Estate Management Mott MacDonald unveiled in 2019 several renderings of a future station that included overhangs, parking and enclosed passenger waiting rooms with restrooms. The proposal, which did not include a building with ticket booths, also considered building the station “completely off the main tracks,” which, according to the report, is part of the current considerations along with a 1,300-foot track off the main line.
According to the AL.com report, Mobile is only one part of the downtown project. CSX, according to a Consolidate Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) program application in December for $179 million, will lead the efforts in building a new rail line approximately 3,000 feet west of the main freight line, which is used by the Class I and was “a focal point of concerns during months of disagreements and negotiations before the Surface Transportation Board (STB). The dispute, according to the report, lasted for most of 2022 and was resolved in November under “a confidentiality agreement that prohibited the parties from disclosing much.”
CSX, Norfolk Southern (NS) and the Port Authority, according to the grant application, will contribute $15.4 million toward the infrastructure improvements. The grant application does not disclose how much the Mobile work will cost nor its timeline for completion, AL.com reported; however, the Southern Rail Commission (SRC), for months, has said the Gulf Coast project will start in 2023.
According to the AL.com report, “Amtrak will contribute $6 million, and the states of Mississippi and Louisiana are allocating $23.1 million. Alabama has not committed any finances toward the project, though the Mobile City Council voted 6-1 in early 2020, to commit $3 million over a three-year period to support the project.”
The total cost within the CRISI grant for the upgrades is $223 million, which, according to the report, encompasses 13 separate areas along the rail route, including downtown Mobile. The projects, AL.com reports, include crossing improvements, siding extensions and turnouts—most of which can be completed while Amtrak is already operating along the Gulf Coast. The projects are expected to be wrapped up by 2026.
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