3 weeks ago

Many questions remain about Gulf Coast passenger rail

The Southern Rail Commission (SRC) is urging the Mobile City Council to commit $3 million in public money to match a “one-time federal grant opportunity” for which they are applying – but it appears they are applying prematurely. For several years now, the SRC has been pushing for new passenger rail service between New Orleans and Mobile. The SRC has come forward with urgent requests on multiple occasions, first approaching the Governor, and now the Mobile City Council, claiming each time that this opportunity for renewal will be “lost.” However, in their efforts to promote passenger rail, the SRC is short-circuiting the established process for ensuring the orderly and effective coexistence of passenger rail service and freight rail service – both of which must operate on the same rail lines.

This coexistence is critical to the freight rail service which is relied upon by some of the largest employers in the states of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, and requires an initial impact study that will ensure a passenger rail implementation that will not negatively impact commerce. It has been reported that the host railroads (CSX & Norfolk Southern) are currently working with Amtrak on the terms of such a study. Once agreed upon, the impact study is estimated to take four to six months to complete. While the SRC has referenced a previous freight rail study that was conducted when they were contemplating long-distance service between New Orleans and Orlando, updated freight information and service times must be modeled in order to get an accurate picture of the impact to current and future freight rail service.

The SRC touts the economic benefits of tourism resulting from passenger rail, but any such benefits must be weighed against any negative financial impact to freight rail commerce. To that end, the freight impact study could help answer the following questions: What is the impact of increased rail traffic to current industries depending on freight rail service? What is the impact to potential expansion of area industries and the recruitment of new manufacturers who may consider reliable freight rail service in their site selection? With recent investments in the Port of Mobile, is new passenger rail traffic an enhancement or hindrance to the continued success of one of our state’s key economic engines? The elected officials being asked for financial commitments to passenger rail – and the taxpayers who will be footing the bill – deserve answers to these questions.

Most recently, the SRC has stated they intend to apply for a federal grant under the Restoration and Enhancement (R&E) program for the operation of this passenger service. But in addition to the operational costs of passenger rail, there must also be an assessment of the necessary infrastructure improvements to allow passenger rail and freight rail to operate on the same lines. Several SRC members have indicated that the state of Alabama and Mobile County will be approached to help cover some of these costs, which are also unknown until the completion of a full study between the parties. Will the City of Mobile be asked to further subsidize passenger rail if either of those entities balk at a funding request?

Governor Ivey has made it clear she would like the benefit of the freight rail impact study completed before committing state funds for Gulf Coast passenger rail. Should the City of Mobile commit funds without having the complete information the Governor has requested? Rather than proceeding under this “cart before the horse” scenario, the SRC should allow the study to be completed so that everyone has the benefit of full information. Our state and local economy, the jobs associated with it, and the taxpayers who will foot the bill, deserve no less.

The Alabama Railway Association is a non-profit association that was founded in 2003. It is a trade organization that represents all railroads in Alabama, from Short lines to Class I Railroads, along with many Associate Members that supply services and/or materials to support railroad operations.

The purpose of the Alabama Railway Association is to promote and support Alabama railroads within the state of Alabama, to assist in improving rail service within the state of Alabama, to increase railroad safety awareness within the industry and to the public, and to provide for interchange of ideas and cooperation among railroad businesses and state and local governments.

Maeci Walker is the executive director of the Alabama Railway Association

2 hours ago

Montgomery honors Martin Luther King, Jr. — ‘This is a celebration’

MONTGOMERY — The city of Montgomery, which hosted Martin Luther King, Jr. for multiple famous speeches, braved the cold and came out in force to celebrate America’s most famous civil rights hero.

The two main events in Alabama’s capital city were a morning service at the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, a venue where King ministered, and a parade through the heart of Montgomery that ended with remarks from the city’s leaders on the capitol steps.

The mood remained jovial throughout the day despite the cold temperatures. Quotes from Dr. King echoed throughout each event, urging anyone who would listen to choose light and love over darkness and hate.

310

Henry Pugh and the Musicians started off the morning by performing the music for the “Celebration and Prelude” at Dexter Avenue Baptist. The event was billed as a birthday party for King, who would have turned 91 in 2020.

“This is a celebration now, be happy!” Pugh admonished the audience while smiling.

True to the spirit of the morning, Reverend Handy, the church’s pastor, donned a birthday party hat in his first appearance in the pulpit.

Later in the service, Reverend Raymonda Speller brought the whole church to its feet with a powerful message about how Dr. King would not want people today to let causes that need champions pass by.

On Dexter Avenue, crowds were treated to performances by marching bands, like the much-praised Jefferson Davis High School Marching Vols.

Later, there were remarks at the capitol from Talladega Mayor Timothy Ragland, the first black American elected to lead that city. Ragland, who is considered by some a rising star in Alabama’s Democratic Party, urged the people in the audience to demand change from their government.

Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed, also the first black man elected mayor of his city, took the podium after Ragland.

“We’re here today because of his leadership, we’re here today because of his courage, we’re here today because of his conviction,” Reed said near the beginning of his remarks.

“As a beneficiary in a different Montgomery than the one he lived in. … As the 57th mayor of this city, that he pastored in a church just one block from here,” Reed continued, noting the change that has come to the city in the 55 years since the march from Selma.

“Dr. King fought for all of mankind, he fought for all of us,” Reed remarked.

Viewers can watch Mayor Reed’s complete speech here.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

3 hours ago

Jalen Hurts loves being back in Alabama, will represent the Tide one final time

MOBILE — Jalen Hurts will play in his old No. 2 University of Alabama Crimson Tide helmet one last time in the Yellowhammer State.

Attending the opening press conference for the Senior Bowl on Monday evening, Hurts was surprised by Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy presenting him with a special two-sided helmet; one side is a replica of his iconic Bama helmet, and the other has the Oklahoma Sooners logo on it.

Hurts, of course, played at Oklahoma this past season as a graduate transfer from Tuscaloosa. He finished as the runner-up in the 2019 Heisman Trophy voting.

While the helmet has obvious sentimental value to the former Tide star quarterback, there is an added back story that makes it even better.

416

Nagy explained that both the Senior Bowl and Hurts personally have worked extensively with Special Spectators, a non-profit organization that provides game tickets and special sports-related experiences to children facing serious illnesses and their families.

To honor Hurts, the organization decided to present him with the helmet for Saturday’s Senior Bowl game.

Hurts beamed as he learned of the special surprise, with Nagy unveiling it in front of assembled press before Hurts took to the microphone.

“The big question was, ‘What helmet is Jalen going to wear during the game: Oklahoma or Alabama?'” Nagy said as he picked up the helmet from under a table. “He might be able to wear both.”

Only two of the unique helmets were made. One will be worn by Hurts during the game. The other will be signed by him and auctioned off for Special Spectators.

Hurts, obviously taken aback by the honor, called it “a pleasant surprise.”

“I like to be creative… and I’m appreciative of all the support I have from great universities — Oklahoma and Alabama,” Hurts said. “Great coaches, great players I played with.”

He expressed his excitement to be back playing in the state of Alabama on the Senior Bowl stage, as he tries to elevate his NFL Draft prospects.

“[T]his is amazing. It’s cool, cool stuff being here, having the opportunity to play here, being back in Alabama, representing two great schools,” Hurts emphasized.

He built upon the power of being back in Alabama later when answering a question:

“Being back here, [I’m] enjoying the moment,” Hurts added.

Additionally, Hurts once again was asked about being famously benched for Tua Tagovailoa in the Tide’s National Championship matchup with Georgia in January 2018.

He responded by saying he would not change anything if given the chance.

“I think everything happens for a reason,” Hurts added. “It all happened as it’s supposed to.”

RELATED: Hurts on Saban: ‘We always had a love for each other … our relationship will never die’

The Senior Bowl game will be played on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. CST in Mobile’s Ladd-Peebles Stadium.

Tickets are available here.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

4 hours ago

Tommy Tuberville goes on offense — ‘Paul Ryan and Jeff Sessions turned on our president’

On Monday, the rhetoric in the contest for the Republican nomination in Alabama’s U.S. Senate race heated up as former Auburn head football coach Tommy Tuberville, a candidate for the GOP U.S. Senate nod, took some shots at his opponent former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

During an appearance on Huntsville radio’s WVNN, Tuberville weighed in on the response to the impeachment saga while out on the campaign trail and as to whether or not it was an important issue to voters.

Tuberville argued on “The Jeff Poor Show” that Sessions was one of the reasons for the impeachment trial in the U.S. Senate, which is set to begin on Tuesday.

758

“You got one thing going on here — one of the guys that started all of this is running in this race, Jeff Sessions,” Tuberville said. “He’s the guy that stepped to the plate, or didn’t step to the plate, recused himself and turned all this impeachment stuff over to the bureaucrat lawyers in Washington, D.C. — the liberal left and turned it over to them. All it is has been a hornets’ nest. This is one of the reasons I got in. When Paul Ryan and Jeff Sessions turned on our president, I said, ‘Enough is enough. I’m going to try to do something.'”

“I don’t whether if I can get elected, but by golly, I’m going to run as an outsider and not as a career politician,” he continued. “I’m running to try to make a difference and try to help this president and try to help this state and country. I think people are looking at it, and if the guy would have done the right thing — if Jeff Sessions had done the right thing, this might not be a problem as it is today. Man, we have opened up a can of worms. I feel bad for the president. I really do.”

When asked what Sessions should have done, Tuberville argued he should have considered the precedent left behind by the Obama administration attorneys general.

“If you just go back and look at the previous president, Eric Holder — he stood up strong for President Obama,” he said. “He stood up strong. He fought it off. There’s many times a guy probably should have recused himself on some of that stuff they were involved in. And then you got Loretta Lynch. She did the same thing. She stood strong.”

“Coming out of the chute, we knew this was going to happen,” he added. “Jeff Sessions knew this was going to happen. He knew he was going to have to make a decision. So why in the world would you even take the position? Why would you even get involved in this if you know you’re going to recuse. He knew it going in. I mean, I’m sure he had his buddies telling him what to do, or this and that. At the end of the day, loyalty is what this country should be built on — not a lot of loyalty there.”

On the possibility of more involvement of Washington, D.C., both financially and organizationally, in the Senate race, as was the case 2017, Tuberville attributed Sessions’ entry into the contest to those efforts and touted his “outsider” credentials.

“What else would you expect?” Tuberville replied. “You know, I was doing pretty good in the polls. I was doing very well, as a matter of fact. And why do you think he got in? They don’t want me up there. I’m not swamp, OK? I’m not a career politician. I’ve actually had a job. I want to go up and help them solve the problems that I’ve seen because my goodness, we’ve got them.”

Immediately following his WVNN appearance, Tuberville’s campaign issued a statement echoing his earlier sentiments.

“In football, a player has to know that he can count on his teammates to watch his back, and a coach has to know that his players will play their hardest until the last second ticks. As attorney general, Jeff Sessions handed the ball to the other team and walked off the field the moment play started getting rough,” Tuberville said according to the statement. “As a result, history’s greatest president will face his darkest day tomorrow as liberal Democrats looking to turn our country socialist argue for his removal from office in a bogus impeachment trial.”

“If Jeff Sessions had stood up and fought instead of letting a bunch of anti-Trump attorneys in the Justice Department bully him into recusal, the Democrats’ persistent persecution of the president could have been stopped a long time ago,” he continued. “It is time for Alabama to elect a senator who will support President Trump, guard his flank, and fight the socialist mob that wants to run him out of Washington. Jeff Sessions had his chance, and he fumbled the ball because he doesn’t know the difference between ‘won’t back down’ and ‘cut and run.’ It is time to elect a senator who knows how to win.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV and host of “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN in Huntsville.

5 hours ago

Donald Trump, Jr. rallies support for Alabama Marine recovering from life-threatening injuries

Matt Pierce has served his country his entire adult life. Even after retiring from the Marine Corps in 2012 after seven tours of duty, Pierce dedicated himself to a career training and educating law enforcement and military personnel.

Now, this American hero needs our help.

Yellowhammer News has covered Pierce’s incredible service in the past. The Alabamian was one of the first U.S. military service members sent on a plane to Afghanistan following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the nation.

809

He then served three tours as an explosive detection dog handler, followed by four tours as an explosive ordinance disposal technician (EOD tech) — the person disarming bombs. All of his tours occurred in the Middle East: two in Iraq and five in Afghanistan.

As detailed in a past Yellowhammer News article, Pierce technically entered the private sector upon retirement from the Marine Corps, however, he continued to serve the United States in a similar fashion. This warrior continued to save lives; while he was no longer the individual personally handling bomb-sniffing dogs or disarming bombs in war zones, Pierce became an expert trainer of military and law enforcement personnel who were doing exactly that at home and abroad.

Pierce’s post-Marines career came through Alabama-based Xtreme Concepts and its subsidiary iK9.

It was while working at iK9’s headquarters in Anniston on Tuesday, December 3, 2019, that Pierce came to be critically injured.

Now, this is a soldier all too familiar with brushes with death. However, it was following a training accident this past December that Pierce was faced with one his toughest tests yet.

According to information provided to Yellowhammer News, Pierce was injured while disposing of black powder and smokeless powder used during iK9 military working dog training exercises.

He reportedly suffered a broken arm, second degree burns and a deep laceration to one of his legs and was airlifted to UAB Hospital.

Following that incident, his mother, Carleen, started a GoFundMe, which set a goal to raise $50,000 for his medical and rehab costs while also detailing the severity of what he faced.

Carleen stated about the aforementioned injuries that Pierce also had third-degree burns and “multiple fractures.” He had either second or third-degree burns on his face, torso and arms.

“After his second surgery to save his right arm the doctors are still unsure if he will ever make a full recovery. He remains in the ICU Burn Trauma Unit,” Carleen wrote.

“While my family asks for continued prayers that the many surgeries he has ahead are successful and that we can keep him infection free we are now also asking for help. Matthew is the father of 3 children and to make sure that they need for nothing while he battles down this long road ahead is his biggest concern. If you could find it in your hearts to either make a donation or share this with your friends it would be greatly appreciated. I understand it’s the holidays but anything donated will go directly to his children or to his medical bills and long term care,” she added.

Fortunately, things have trended in the right direction since then.

On Monday, January 20, Carleen wrote, “I wanted to post another update as we are coming up on two months since the accident. My son has undergone all of his surgeries successfully and has been released from the hospital. He is dealing with day to day life of visiting nurses, occupational therapy and physical therapy. His right arm is proving most difficult and unsure if will ever regain full mobility. He is recovering nicely and showing how strong he truly is. I want to send a heart felt thank you to everyone involved. The medical treatment he has received has been tremendous and support from our family, friends and community has been above and beyond. We thank you all for continued prayers.”

Yet, while the prognosis is positive, Pierce is still faced with a costly and lengthy process moving forward.

This is one reason why Donald Trump, Jr., the president’s eldest son, on Monday tweeted his support of Pierce and urged people to support the GoFundMe.


Money quickly poured in after the tweet from “Don Jr.,” and the GoFundMe is now “trending” due to the high volume of donations pouring in.

While the money will certainly have a tangible effect in helping Pierce with his rehab, the backing from the president’s son is also sure to be an important morale boost for Pierce as well.

In an exclusive statement to Yellowhammer News, Pierce reacted to Trump Jr.’s tweet, saying he was “blown away” that Don Jr. was willing to rally support behind him.

“As I am starting my road to recovery, my family and I are so incredibly grateful for all the amazing people that have been willing to help,” Pierce added. “I am so very blessed. May God look over each and every one of them. Semper Fidelis.”

You can support the cause here.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

7 hours ago

Watch: Kanye West, Sunday Service Choir perform at Alabama evangelist’s conference

Kanye West and his 135-member Sunday Service Choir on Sunday performed during two sessions at the Birmingham-based Scott Dawson Evangelistic Association’s “Strength to Stand Conference.”

Dawson, a well-known Alabama evangelist, finished third in the Yellowhammer State’s 2018 Republican gubernatorial primary.

West has made waves internationally for his turn to religion, seemingly trading in a life often in public turmoil for one of public testimony. Beginning in January of last year, the West-led Sunday Service Choir has performed every Sunday, as well as Friday, September 27, when his album “Jesus Is King” was announced for release.

Their appearance this Sunday at Strength to Stand also featured West’s pastor, Adam Tyson. A second session was added after the first one sold out.

197

West during the sessions performed “Jesus Walks” from 2004, which brought his performance full circle to identify with his relationship with Christ. The talented choir led the audience in a moving version of “How Great Thou Art,” and “Closed on Sunday” was also reportedly a crowd favorite.

In a statement, Dawson said, “We were so thankful that Kanye West and his team were willing to come to Strength to Stand this year.”

The Strength to Stand conference is an annual event that has taken place in Pigeon Forge, TN, since 1994. The conference has served over 250,000 students since then, including 17,000 taking part this Sunday.

“It was an honor to have Kanye and the Sunday Service Choir along with Kanye’s pastor, Adam Tyson, join us for the conference to tell the world about Jesus!” he added.

Dawson recently interviewed on Yellowhammer Podcast Network’s “Living Life on Purpose” podcast with host Matt Wilson. Read more about that interview, in which Dawson spoke about West’s turn to God, and listen here.

Highlights of West’s Sunday performances can be viewed below or here:

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn