Alabama elected officials, job creators united in opposing Amtrak’s petition to steamroll the Port of Mobile
CSX Transportation and Norfolk Southern Company on Monday filed a motion to dismiss Amtrak’s petition before the U.S. Surface Transportation Board (STB) to force the freight rail operators to permit the operation of Amtrak’s passenger rail service on its proposed Mobile-New Orleans route, which is known as the Gulf Coast Passenger Rail project.
As Yellowhammer News has reported since 2019, the proposal would have two Amtrak passenger trains daily utilize CSX’s existing mainline from the west into downtown Mobile then back west (ultimately traveling to New Orleans).
The Alabama State Port Authority utilizes that line, and it also supports crossings for both the Port Authority’s railroad (Terminal Railway) and five other railroads entering the Port’s main dock terminals, the container intermodal rail terminal and the soon-to-be-constructed finished automobile terminal.
Under federal law, all of that important freight traffic would have to yield to Amtrak’s passenger service. This is why CSX, the Port Authority and the diverse industries that rely on the Port for transporting goods have been asking for an impact study to be completed that would assess infrastructure needs to accommodate passenger rail and any impact on existing freight rail service.
CSX, Norfolk Southern (which owns tracks elsewhere on the proposed route) and Amtrak ultimately agreed on the parameters of the study, which got underway in spring 2020.
However, as Yellowhammer News reported last month, Amtrak decided to end the study before its completion while also announcing the rail service from Mobile to New Orleans would begin next year, regardless of the potential adverse effects on Alabama’s economy.
More than $2 billion has recently been invested in growing and enhancing the Port of Mobile, which already contributes over 150,000 jobs and $25.4 billion in economic impact as Alabama’s seaport.
Despite bailing on the impact study, Amtrak on March 16 initiated a formal process before the STB to require CSX and Norfolk Southern to permit the operation of the passenger rail service.
A large group of job creators in Alabama have already publicly requested that Amtrak complete the impact study. This includes the Business Council of Alabama, Alabama Farmers Federation, Manufacture Alabama, Alabama Forestry Assocation, Alabama Mining Association, Alabama Railway Association, Economic Development Association of Alabama and Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce.
U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Congressman Jerry Carl (AL-01) have done the same, including Shelby’s letter last week filed with the STB.
Since Shelby’s letter, Governor Kay Ivey, Alabama Senate President Pro Tem Greg Reed (R-Jasper), House Speaker Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia), Mobile City Councilman Joel Daves, the Business Council of Alabama, the Alabama Farmers Federation, the Alabama Mining Association and the State Port Authority have filed respective formal comments with the STB opposing the Amtrak petition on the basis of the impact study not being completed.
“The STB should not allow Amtrak to restore service until that study has been completed. Without a completed operational modeling study, Alabama will not commit to providing any financial support to new Gulf Coast passenger service,” concluded Ivey.
Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn