Taxpayers funding return of passenger rail service on Coast

By Steve Wilson
September 3, 2019

The U.S. Department of Transportation announced Thursday that the Federal Railroad Administration has awarded a $4,360,000 grant to the Southern Rail Commission.

The grant would assist the implementation of twice-daily rail service between Mobile, Alabama and New Orleans, which would have stops on the route along in the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

“This funding will help Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama resume passenger rail service between New Orleans and Mobile to enhance regional economic growth and rural mobility,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao in a news release.

Amtrak’s 2015 feasibility study said two trains daily between Mobile and New Orleans would have ridership of about 38,400 annually and require an annual subsidy of $6.97 million. For those keeping score at home, that adds up to about $181 per passenger in subsidies.

The funding is being awarded under the FRA 2017 Restoration and Enhancement Grants Program, which provides assistance grants for implementing, restoring or upgrading passenger rail service between cities.

Passenger rail service between Mobile and New Orleans was canceled before Hurricane Katrina in 2005 amid years of declining ridership. According to the Amtrak 2015 feasibility study, total trips declined from 148,387 in fiscal 1993 to 81,348 in 2005, a decrease of 45.2 percent.

In June, U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker announced a $33 grant to fund infrastructure and capacity improvements along the rail line connecting Mobile and New Orleans, which is owned and operated by freight operator CSX. Amtrak is supposed to provide $6 million as well.

Federal money won’t be the only financial component.

Mississippi taxpayers will have to fork over $15 million as a match, along with Louisiana ($10 million).  Alabama is balking about providing its share of the matching funds, $2.2 million. 

The SRC cites a May 2018 study by the Trent Lott National Center at the University of Southern Mississippi that says restoration of passenger rail on the Mississippi Gulf Coast between Mobile and New Orleans would add $6 million annually to the economy.


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