The return of passenger rail service to Mobile may still be a long way down the track, but it’s closer now that it was yesterday.
Friday, the Southern Rail Commission – a group that looks at passenger rail service – announced that it will launch a study to determine if Amtrak should return to the area and if so, what cities should have stops.
“We believe sometime in early 2016 we will have a study completed that gives us the numbers we need to know if this is a viable project or not and then sometime in February we hope to have a delegation from Washington and the states that actually take an inspection train along the Gulf Coast,” said John Spain, Vice Chairman of the Southern Rail Commission.
The commission met in Mobile. Dozens of mayors and other leaders from Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana were in attendance.
Hurricane Katrina in 2005 destroyed the tracks Amtrak used along the Gulf Coast and service has never returned. Mobile’s north-south Amtrak run to Birmingham disappeared a decade earlier.
Money from the transportation bill passed by Congress this week will help fund the study.
It will determine if it makes sense to return service the Gulf Coast, and if so, to what cities.
Funding the return of Amtrak service remains the biggest obstacle.
“There’s no conversation about money now,” said Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson.
Stimpson believes, however, that Mobile would be included in any expansion.
“It will just be interesting to follow this process and we will engage because it could create an opportunity for us,” he said.
Amtrak service could be huge for smaller towns – both ones that had a stop in the past – and those that want one in the future.
“It gave the people the opportunity to travel, but it also brought people to Atmore,” said Jerry Gehman, representing the city at Friday’s meeting.
Atmore was a popular stop on both the east-west Sunset Limited route, and also the north-south Gulf Breeze route
Ocean Springs was not a stop on the Sunset Limited, but the city’s mayor hopes it will be part of any Amtrak expansion.
“We need other modes of transportation and it revitalizes our urban core,” said Mayor Connie Moran. “It so important to find ways to bring people in.”