Alabama’s U.S. House members are bipartisanly standing strong in the face of Amtrak’s attempt to force the Gulf Coast Passenger Rail project on the Yellowhammer State’s citizens.
Last month, Amtrak filed a petition before the U.S. Surface Transportation Board (STB) to require CSX Transportation and Norfolk Southern Company to permit the operation of Amtrak’s passenger rail service on the proposed Mobile-New Orleans route.
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 earlier this year, Amtrak decided to end the study before its completion while also announcing the rail service from Mobile to New Orleans would begin in 2022, 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 then publicly requested that Amtrak complete the impact study. This included the Business Council of Alabama, Alabama Farmers Federation, Manufacture Alabama, Alabama Forestry Association, 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 in recent weeks 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, the State Port Authority and others also filed respective formal comments with the STB opposing the Amtrak petition on the basis of the impact study not being completed.
Now, Congressman Jerry Carl — who represents Coastal Alabama — has spearheaded a letter to the STB, urging the board to require the completion of the impact and feasibility study prior to the return of Amtrak service to Mobile.
This letter is signed by all seven House members from Alabama: Carl and Reps. Barry Moore (AL-02), Mike Rogers (AL-03), Robert Aderholt (AL-04), Mo Brooks (AL-05), Gary Palmer (AL-06) and Terri Sewell (AL-07).
“Last month, I expressed my disappointment in Amtrak’s failures to uphold its commitment to a feasibility study to demonstrate the impact of passenger rail on the Port of Mobile and the commercial interests of Alabama. Amtrak’s ongoing efforts to reintroduce passenger rail service are concerning, so my colleagues and I are urging the Surface Transportation Board to require the completion of a feasibility study prior to the return of Amtrak service in Mobile, because all parties have an obligation to protect the economic interests of Alabama’s workers and businesses,” explained Carl in a statement.
Aderholt, the dean of Alabama’s House delegation, commented, “Amtrak service would no doubt be good for the economy of the Mobile area, but if it will come at the expense of the greater economy of the port, then that isn’t an acceptable trade off. Amtrak needs to work with all of the stakeholders to come to an equitable solution.”
“In March, Amtrak abruptly made the decision to attempt to reestablish rail service along the Gulf Coast without having completed a feasibility study, which they previously agreed to carry out. To move ahead with the project despite real concerns about the rail traffic economic impact to Alabama and costs to taxpayers is wrong. The Alabama people deserve to know how this rail line is going to impact their pocketbooks. The feasibility study must be completed before moving forward,” added Brooks.
The concern was bipartisan, with Sewell’s contribution.
“The Port of Mobile is essential to the economic vitality and well-being of Alabama’s 7th Congressional District. A comprehensive feasibility analysis should be conducted before this process moves forward,” she remarked.
View the letter here.
Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn