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Here at the Southern Rail Commission’s meeting on the Gulf Coast Passenger Rail Project. This project could negatively impact the Port of Mobile and commerce throughout the state, including industry serviced by freight rail, despite tourism interests in the project. #alpolitics
A study is needed to examine these specific potential impacts, as well as economic development throughout Alabama. Governor Kay Ivey has not signed off on the project, and has been proceeding carefully so facts can come to light
There is significant worry that New Orleans would be the main benefactor of this project, with Alabama getting a net negative.
One thing that has struck me as odd: MS locales have begun spending $ on infrastructure -& are urging others to apply/spend funds - before the operational simulation study has been done to assess infrastructure needs to accommodate passenger rail & impact on existing freight rail
Some back and forth just confirmed that this simulation study for rail capacity has not even been signed off on yet. CSX and Amtrak reached agreement, but negotiations ongoing with Norfolk Southern
(CSX has agreed to terms on how the impact study will be done, but the impact study itself has not yet been done. Norfolk Southern has not yet agreed to terms with Amtrak & since it is a joint study the study will not begin until NS and Amtrak agree to the terms of the study.)
Deputy ADECA Director Anita Archie makes a strong point about the issue of funding, which is also a concern in addition to Port/freight. Federal funding for O&M only for first three years. She says it’s still not clear where this funding would come from, though talks continue.
Wiley Blankenship, SRC vice chair who is from Mobile, asks for the firm date by which Alabama needs to make a decision on the project. (Date “train leaves the station”)
Archie raising the concern that MS and LA are moving forward full steam ahead without the operations/capacity study having yet been conducted
Archie saying with state/local funding involved for Alabama, there are still too many unanswered questions
Archie asks same question as Blankenship, which is: what is the drop-dead date?
Archie is fired up right now
The SRC chairman just said Amtrak is representing their legal interests, to which Archie was exasperated. Seemed to intimate her interests (Alabama’s) and Amtrak’s don’t always necessarily line up
A MS commissioner just said their state was the reddest of the three, which got shot down pretty quickly (same commissioner had said earlier in the meeting he wasn’t sure who’d win their gubernatorial general)
Archie emphasizes again that they still need their questions answered for important funding and economic development priorities before moving forward.
Patrick Cagle with the Alabama Coal Association asks that when these questions are being looked at, that companies moving this freight through rail and with business at the Port be at the table. (Coal is the Port’s biggest commodity, with Warrior Met Coal the biggest customer)
Blankenship during the back and forth between Archie and others seemed to suggest all stakeholders have previously been convened in the same room. My understanding is that freight rail and freight customers were not invited or in the room.
We still haven’t gotten a clear drop-dead date answered, FWIW
Cagle adds that if the long term scope includes Tuscaloosa to the Coast also, that the coal industry even more so needs to be at the table
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