Public meeting held for rail study

Published 12:04 am Wednesday, November 21, 2018

A separate passenger railroad system from Montgomery to Mobile was the main topic of discussion during a public meeting on Nov. 14 at Atmore City Hall.

Officials from the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) introduced a feasibility study centered on the return of passenger rail. The study is in its second phase, which began in October.

Phase I of the study was completed and submitted to the Federal Fail Administration (FRA) in 2014. This phase included a study for the return of passenger rail between Montgomery and Birmingham.

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Phase II of the study is expected to be completed and submitted to the FRA in fall 2019.

The purpose of the study is to assess the feasibility of passenger rail service between Montgomery and Mobile, and to determine what’s needed to implement the system. Additionally, the study will also consider the combined effects of restoring passenger service along the corridor with rail connections to existing and proposed east/west Amtrak lines in Birmingham and Mobile, according to ADECA.

The study also aims to reduce congestion on roadways and promoting and enhancing the human and natural environment.

There are several keys to Phase II of the study, and they include stakeholder outreach, cost estimates, service and alignment alternatives development, cost-benefit analysis, ridership and revenue estimates and plan implementation.

The study is being conducted by AECOM, which was hired by (ADECA), according to reports.

Brian Smart, AECOM transportation manager, said during the public meeting that the plan is to present routes to the city by next spring.

“At that time, we will present to you the possible routes and the alignment options that we’re currently studying,” he said.

Smart said the project study area for Phase II for local residents is from Montgomery to Mobile. The route from Montgomery to Birmingham is also a part of the study.

Smart said cost and ridership facts will be presented at a later date as a part of the study.

During the question and answer portion of the meeting, questions were asked about the cost of railroad improvements on current CSX lines, and the use of current technology for rail.

A question was asked about when Atmore got the Gulf Breeze line in 1989, and whether or not a working relationship has been established with CSX.

“Specific to this corridor and working with CSX we haven’t had those conversations yet,” Smart said. “This is based on experience, they are coming to the bargaining table with more specific requests than just these high level, we might do this and might do that if we get this in return. They’re more specific in sharing the rights of way and corridors. The crossings, those are what they tend to focus on.”

Smart said the environmental review process, and a concept design for shared rights of way will be included in the next part of the study.

“Then, we’ll do a preliminary engineering and final design,” he said. “During the final design, that’s when you would negotiate the use of the corridor (with CSX), and the shared use of the corridor or rights of way.”

The separate rail line, if constructed, would be laid on several pieces of property along the Interstate 65 route.

This is a part of the feasibility study, Smart said.

“Restoration of the service on the CSX corridor, that automatically is one of the options that we consider as a part of the feasibility study,” he said. “We’re taking other inputs too, and there may be other routes.”

On the technology, Smart said they’ll look at current rail options, magnetic lift, high-speed rail and others as a part of the study.