SRC: Grant funding needed

Published 12:04 am Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Southern Rail Commission officials said Monday the governor’s signature for an application for federal grant funds will go a long way to help return Amtrak passenger rail service to the Gulf Coast.

The deadline for submitting the application for the $5.3 million in funds is at the end of the day on June 21. A hard copy of the application must be sent to Washington, D.C. by the deadline, Alabama SRC Commissioner Jerry Gehman said.

The funds, which are a 50-50 match and will be paid over three years, serve two purposes, SRC Treasurer/Secretary Greg White said.

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White said the grant funds will go toward infrastructure investment and for an operational supplement.

“These grants require a three-state commitment that’s proportional to their shared cost,” White said. “For example, the infrastructure improvements will be much heavier in Mississippi and they’ll be higher than in Alabama.”

Since Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005, passenger rail service has ceased. For some time, the SRC and other entities have made a concerted effort to return rail service to the area.

The states of Mississippi and Louisiana have committed to provide funding for improvements for the return of passenger rail service, hence Alabama’s deadline.

Gehman said the cost to return the Amtrak service went from $2.9 million to $5.3 million (the grant funds) because the state missed the deadline.

“What we stand to benefit from, from a businessman’s perspective — the University of Southern Mississippi released a study for us (the SRC), and we got that report in Gulfport for our regional SRC meeting,” he said. “It shows a return on investment on tourism dollars, and what a train will do for the state of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.”

Gehman said the exhaustive study showed an impact on the local economies, and the state would be able to make a positive return on the investment of the grant funds through tourism. He said the study showed $25 to every $1 invested.

“Based on Amtrak’s view of service, this will be hottest train in U.S.,” he said.

If the funding is approved, then Phase 1 of returning passenger rail service will go forward, White said.

Phase 1 includes round trips from New Orleans, La. to Mobile. Two morning and evening trains are planned.

White said the process of requesting state funds is difficult because they’ve had to shake any loose and new money from the state and local budgets.

“The good thing about these two pots of money is that they’re matching moneys,” he said. “There’s a funding requirement to match these and it takes three years to spend the funds.”