The cost of going by rail to New Orleans from Mobile will likely be prohibitive for most tourists, according to analysis by the Mississippi Center for Public Policy.
Even the best-case scenario for a train trip and rides to two tourist areas — Jackson Square and Uptown — would cost 65.8 percent more than driving by car, which includes parking near Jackson Square.
Our hypothetical trip, either by rail or by car, would involve our family of four visiting the area around Jackson Square — where the Aquarium of the Americas, the beignets and coffee of the Café Du Monde, the St. Louis Cathedral and the Louisiana State Museum Cabildo are within easy walking distance — and the Audubon Zoo in Uptown.
Just round-trip train tickets would cost a family of four at least $144 (if the one-way ticket was $18 per person) or as much as $288 (if the ticket was on the high end of estimates at $30 per person one way).
Adding in rides from Uber (during non-peak hours) to get to some attractions from the train station in the New Orleans Central Business District and the cost balloons to $189.87 (low end of train ticket estimates) to as much as $333.87 at the top end.
The best-selling car in Alabama and Mississippi is the Nissan Altima, which has a 16-gallon gas tank and gets 39 miles per gallon on the highway. With regular gasoline costing $2.14 per gallon in Mobile, a tank of gas would cost $34.24.
Parking at Harrah’s New Orleans casino parking garage is $5 per hour. Assuming a three-hour excursion to Jackson Square would cost $15.
Parking at the Audubon Zoo is free. The total by car adds up to $49.24. Using the standard federal mileage reimbursement rate still is cheaper than rail at $83.52.
Regardless of whether tourists decide to go by rail or if by car, taxpayers will be heavily subsidizing the $65.9 million project.
Mississippi has already committed about $15 million in state taxpayer money to the project, with Louisiana adding $10 million. Alabama is balking on whether to provide its share of the matching funds.
The Federal Rail Administration — under the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements Program (CRISI) — is providing up to $32,995,516 in taxpayer funds for improving crossings, bridges, sidings and other infrastructure along the route and adding a railroad station in Mobile.
A 2015 Amtrak study predicted that 38,400 passengers would utilize restored rail service, which was ended in 2005 before Hurricane Katrina made landfall, across the Gulf Coast.
It would also operate, according to the study, at a loss of $4 million that would have to be covered by subsidies from state and local governments.