Mar 30 2021

Shelby: Data-driven Process Essential to Passenger Rail in Mobile

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), the vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, today sent a letter to the heads of Amtrak, CSX Corporation, Norfolk Southern, and the U.S. Surface Transportation Board requesting the completion of a study to alleviate concerns that new passenger rail service to Mobile, Alabama, could negatively impact growth and commerce in the region. Amtrak recently announced that the new service would begin irrespective of the unfinished data-driven study.

 

Senator Shelby stated in the letter, “I believe that initiating new Gulf Coast passenger rail service should be guided by the best available data and information. As one of the largest growing seaports in the United States, the Port of Mobile serves as an essential economic driver for the state of Alabama and region. …  As such, prior to establishing passenger rail service in Mobile, I believe it is essential that a comprehensive analysis be completed that definitively determines the impact such service would have on existing freight rail service and the Port of Mobile. It is my hope that all parties involved can come to an amicable solution to ensure the study is completed.”

 

Senator Shelby also highlighted that the decision to forgo the planned study goes against a well-instituted process of completing a comprehensive analysis of the possible effects that new passenger rail service could have on existing freight operation – prior to beginning service.

 

“The completion of a comprehensive study prior to initiating passenger rail service is not unique to the Gulf Coast line. It is my understanding that there is a well-established process recognized by Amtrak and the freight industries whenever passenger rail service is introduced on freight rail lines. Notably, that process has included the completion of a data-driven study identifying what additional infrastructure is necessary to prevent any potential impact on existing freight rail operation,” wrote Senator Shelby.

 

As noted in the letter, the Alabama Port Authority’s annual economic value contributions total over 150,000 jobs and $25.4 billion.

 

The full text of the letter is as follows:

 

Dear Mr. Flynn, Mr. Foote, Mr. Squires, and Mr. Oberman:

 

I write in regard to recent efforts to initiate new passenger rail service in the Gulf Coast. Prior to 2005, passenger rail service ran from Louisiana to Florida, with stops in Alabama and Mississippi. However, since Hurricane Katrina, Amtrak discontinued the service through Mobile.

 

In recent years, ongoing discussions have occurred about the possibility of new passenger rail service in the Gulf Coast through a line connecting New Orleans, Louisiana, to Mobile, Alabama, with stops in Mississippi. As proposals were presented, multiple entities – such as freight operators, the Alabama State Port Authority, several of the Port of Mobile’s customers, and local government officials – voiced concern about the potential effect that passenger rail service could have on economic growth and commerce in the region. 

 

To alleviate such concerns, Amtrak, in cooperation with CSX and Norfolk Southern, agreed to conduct a study to determine how passenger rail service would affect freight operation in Mobile. The study and the supplemental engineering and cost analysis was scheduled to be completed prior to the start of any service. Additionally, although Mississippi and Louisiana dedicated state funding for the project, Alabama’s commitment of funds was contingent on the completion of the study.

 

The completion of a comprehensive study prior to initiating passenger rail service is not unique to the Gulf Coast line. It is my understanding that there is a well-established process recognized by Amtrak and the freight industries whenever passenger rail service is introduced on freight rail lines. Notably, that process has included the completion of a data-driven study identifying what additional infrastructure is necessary to prevent any potential impact on existing freight rail operation.

 

Last month, Amtrak announced that it planned to begin passenger rail service from New Orleans to Mobile starting in January 2022. Amtrak also announced that it had no plans to complete the ongoing study, which included the route’s impact on Mobile.

 

I believe that initiating new Gulf Coast passenger rail service should be guided by the best available data and information. As one of the largest growing seaports in the United States, the Port of Mobile serves as an essential economic driver for the state of Alabama and region. To date, the Alabama Port Authority’s annual economic value contributions total over 150,000 jobs and $25.4 billion. Since 2005, when passenger rail service was last active, the Port of Mobile has experienced significant growth that has led to increased economic development and investments in the area. 

 

As such, prior to establishing passenger rail service in Mobile, I believe it is essential that a comprehensive analysis be completed that definitively determines the impact such service would have on existing freight rail service and the Port of Mobile. It is my hope that all parties involved can come to an amicable solution to ensure the study is completed. If I can be of further reference, please do not hesitate to contact my office.

 

For a PDF copy of the letter, click here.

 

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