Ivey, Bryant don’t support Amtrak return

Published 12:39 am Friday, June 22, 2018

Members of the Southern Rail Commission said they are disappointed that Alabama and Mississippi did not pledge financial support for a project to return passenger rail service to the Gulf Coast, but they will reevaluate and keep working.

Members of the SRC, where Andalusia’s Greg White represents Alabama and serves as secretary and treasurer, said Thursday he hopes discussions can continue.

Amtrak was ready to make its return to Alabama, but was unable to apply for the Federal Railroad Administration’s FY17 Consolidated Rail Infrastructure Safety and Improvements (CRISI) funding because Gov. Kay Ivey and Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant did not commit state funds toward extending the line from New Orleans to Mobile.

“A great deal of effort has gone into this project by folks throughout our region,” White said. “I believe that passenger rail service is a progressive alternative for our region, and that it will benefit our region in many ways when it is made available.”

The restarted route would feature two Amtrak trains running daily from New Orleans to Mobile, making four stops in Mississippi: Bay St. Louis, Gulfport, Biloxi and Pascagoula.

The state of Alabama would have had to commit $5.3 million over three years to bring Amtrak back to Mobile, but according to the Trent Lott National Center at the University of Southern Mississippi, an annual return on investment of between $19 million and $299 million would brought in by Alabama.

“Priorities have to be determined at different levels,” White said. “As a member of the SRC, representing Alabama, I am confident that we identified the correct priorities for our region’s transportation solutions.”

According to a press release from the SRC, Louisiana was the only state of the three that was prepared to commit $9.5 million towards the project.

“Gov. Ivey and Gov. Bryant obviously must look at the bigger picture as they make decisions on applying limited funding,” White said. “Their jobs are compounded many times over as they set the path forward for our states.”

On March 23, President Trump signed the FY18 omnibus appropriations bill that included $35.5 million to restore lost passenger rail service on the Gulf Coast, and White said that he was hopeful for Alabama and the Southeast.

“I appreciate both governors’ insights,” White said. “And I look forward to working with both of them and other state leaders as we continue the discussions. We will hold discussions next week about the route forward.”

SRC Chairman John Spain said that he is disappointed to not take advantage of this opportunity.

“I know I speak for my fellow commissioners when I say I’m very disappointed to not take advantage of this funding for which Gulf Coast Passenger Rail is so perfectly suited,” Spain said. “We’ll turn our sights to the 2018 fiscal year, and I’m hopeful we will have full support to apply for CRISI funds at that time.”