Mobile city council defers vote to expand Amtrak rail service; New Orleans is onboard

Gulf Coast Amtrak Vote

NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - Local train advocates say all is not lost after the Mobile city council deferred a vote on a measure to fund expanded Amtrak rail service from New Orleans across the Gulf Coast.

This is the third setback for supporters of the Gulf Coast rail service, but some say there remains a glimmer of hope.

The famed train ‘The City of New Orleans’ arrived at Union Passenger Terminal right on time to pick up dozens of eager passengers. Rail passengers say they love the train because it’s roomier than a plane and they welcome the possibility of expanded service from Louisiana to Mobile.

“I find it relaxing, I like taking in the scenery and you have more room,” passenger Cathy Conner said.

But the service is in jeopardy because the Mobile city council just deferred action on a measure to spend $3 million to fund its portion of improvements for a Gulf Coast rail line that's been envisioned for nearly 40 years.

“Worst case scenario we'll have a train to Pascagoula,” rail advocate Andrew Lodriguss said.

The Mobile council’s finance committee has already voted to oppose the project. Alabama’s governor and Mobile Port interests are also against rail line expansion. But rail passenger advocates say all is not lost.

“If Mobile misses out, we can offer mobile in the future an extension of that passenger line, that New Orleans and Mississippi will be benefitting in,” Lodriguss said.

Rail advocates say since Louisiana and Mississippi have already put up $28 million. Combined with federal matching money, this could add up to more than $100 million in rail improvements to accommodate faster Amtrak trains for the two states.

“I bring my laptop and watch a movie, and it’s easy and nice,” passenger McKinley Granderson Jr. said.

Another reason why many people say they prefer rail travel is the ease of operation, terminals like union passenger are far less crowded and people say there are fewer hassles.

The Mobile council has until Feb. 5 to decide to opt into the expanded rail service. Otherwise, their costs will balloon from $3 million to $6 million dollars if they decide to opt-in later.

“When you look at the east and west coast, they have embraced passenger rail tremendously and Mobile will likely get on board,” Lodriguss said.

But in the meantime, rail proponents say improvements will likely move forward in Louisiana and Mississippi for passengers ready for new destinations.

If the improved rail service becomes a reality there would be four stops in Mississippi, including Bay St. Louis, Gulfport, Biloxi, and Pascagoula.

New Orleans is already on board and many hope Mobile will be too. The improved rail service could be ready by 2023.

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