FRA awards $33M passenger rail grant

Published 11:41 am Wednesday, June 12, 2019

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The Federal Rail Administration (FRA) recently announced that it awarded a $33 million grant to help aid the Southern Rail Commission’s (SRC) efforts to restore passenger rail service to the Gulf Coast, according to officials.

The grant is a matched grant with commitments from the state of Mississippi, the Mississippi Department of Transportation, the city of Mobile, Amtrak and private partners. Additionally, the grant will also be matched with the help of priority investments from the state of Louisiana, according to a release.

According to a release from the SRC, the funding will be used to make major infrastructure and capital investments required to allow Amtrak to move ahead with launching new, regular, reliable passenger service between New Orleans and Mobile.

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Passenger rail service to the Gulf Coast ended when Hurricane Katrina derailed the infrastructure along the area in 2005. Since then, the SRC has been working to help restore the service.

The SRC applied for the grant from the federal Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) program

The effort has been and continues to be a bipartisan effort from Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama SRC commissioners, the populace of the states, Gov. Phil Bryant and Gov. John Bel Edwards, and Congress.

Amtrak has also showed a consistent commitment to the project, providing an inspection train in 2016 — which ran through Atmore — working to minimize freight conflict, and contributing matching funds for the grant application. “Amtrak has strong state and local partners in Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana,” said Amtrak President Richard H. Anderson in the release. “The Mobile-New Orleans route exemplifies the type of short corridor service Amtrak wants to establish throughout the nation.”

“As the inspection train rolled through scores of communities back in 2016, we were overwhelmed at the thousands of people who turned out in every stop to make it clear that they urgently want passenger rail service back in their communities,” said John Robert Smith, chair of Transportation for America, former mayor of Meridian, Miss. and former chair of the board of Amtrak. “They understood that new rail service would be a win for the economy, for tourism, for local business, and for all of their residents who get a new affordable way to travel the region. We’re hopeful that Congress also gets the clear message that they should be aiming to replicate this kind of story in other corridors all across the country as they maintain a vital national passenger rail network.”

As of late, the results of a feasibility study were released by the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs in an effort to return passenger rail service from Mobile to Montgomery.

The study’s results were presented to the public on April 30 at Atmore City Hall by the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA).

“The results of our preliminary analysis are two alignments,” ADECA Project Manager Brian Smart said at the meeting. “One being the general rights of way of Interstate 65, and the other follows the existing rail corridor that CSX owns and operates. Within these two general corridors we assume there are going to be improvements to accommodate higher speeds for our trains so we have a competitive travel mode.”
The purpose of the study was 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.

According to the release, the SRC, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Amtrak intend to move quickly and have trains running in 24 months, anticipating productive negotiations with CSX as Amtrak works with the private railroad to clear the way for space for passenger service.