Gov. Kay Ivey on Thursday announced Alabama will not commit funds towards extending passenger rail service to Mobile. The Southern Rail Commission released a statement after it was unable to secure state matching funds for the cost of resuming passenger rail service from the states of Alabama and Mississippi.
“The Southern Rail Commission (SRC) regrets that it was unable to apply for the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA)’s FY17 Consolidated Rail Infrastructure Safety and Improvements (CRISI) funding due to the lack of state funding commitments from Mississippi and Alabama. The CRISI program was created and funded with the support of Senator Wicker and then-Senator Cochran, and the Gulf Coast rail project was well suited to take advantage of this unique opportunity. Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards was prepared to commit $9.5million towards the project. The SRC stands ready to apply for the FY18 round of funding should Mississippi and Alabama commit the required matching funds.”
The SRC claims that the Trent Lott National Center at the University of Southern Mississippi estimates that restoring passenger rail along the Gulf will deliver an annual return on investment of between $64 million and $525 for Mississippi, between $19 million and $229 million for Alabama, and between $86M and $378M for Louisiana, depending on the increase in tourism.
The combined local match between Mississippi and Alabama would be approximately $20 million.
The SRC claims that that would be more than offset by the economic growth produced from additional gulf coast tourism. It is currently impossible to travel by passenger rail from Birmingham to Mobile, even though there is passenger rail service from Birmingham to New Orleans.
“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,” said SRC Chairman John Spain. 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.”
The Mobile City Council passed a resolution asking Alabama Governor Kay Ivey (R) for the money; but on Thursday Ivey declined to commit the funds.
“I currently do not plan to provide limited state resources to passenger rail service.” Gov. Ivey said.
Amtrak’s Crescent Line currently runs through Birmingham and runs from New Orleans to New York City. The proposed Gulf Coast line would have connected New Orleans to Biloxi and Mobile. Passenger rail service on the Gulf Coast ended with Hurricane Katrina.
Ivey’s Democratic opponent, Walter “Walt” Maddox, strongly disagreed with the decision not to fund the rail expansion.
Maddox said in a statement, “After exhaustive research and study, Governor Ivey’s own appointees to the Southern Rail Commission recommended an investment that would vastly enhance Alabama’s tourism industry for decades to come by creating new jobs and revenue for a 21st Century economy. This is not about passenger rail versus freight – this is about the past versus the future. This decision continues Governor Ivey’s pattern of outdated governing that keeps Alabama at or near the bottom in everything that matters. In missing this opportunity to position Alabama at the epicenter of passenger rail travel on the gulf coast, Governor Ivey proves that Alabama is not ‘on the right track.’”
Maddox and Ivey will be in the general election on November 6.
Rail advocates had hoped to connect Birmingham to Montgomery and to Huntsville as well in the future. That seems unlikely now.