With the vote being delayed multiple times, including last week, and a deadline for grant funds rapidly approaching, the Mobile city council, on a 6-1 vote, approved committing $3 million over 3 years for the return of Amtrak passenger rail service to the city of Mobile.
The commitment from the city of Mobile was crucial towards returning service to the Mobile area, which is still not a done deal. According to an AL.com story, the project will require an additional commitment of $2.2 million the state. Council members stated before the vote that they had been in communication with Kay Ivey’s administration and that it was the responsibility of the Southern Rail Commission to secure the additional funding.
The single no vote came from Councilman Joel Daves who has been critical of the financial burden and subsides of the program. In today’s meeting he said, “My primary concern all along is the operations.”
The crux of his position was his opposition was a point many other opponents have made, “The bottom line is by Amtrak’s own estimates the rider would pay $1.00 and the taxpayers $10.00.”
He goes on to describe flaws with the economic benefit assumptions being used by the city saying that they are based on data that is contrary to Amtrak’s own estimating formulas. He also panned the biased polling data that has received recent media attention pointing to the way the questions were framed and pointed out that an Amtrak official confirmed that no other rail line in the nation has a 10 to 1 subsidy.
One of his closing points was that in spite of the passionate speeches from those in support of the rail line, “This is not a viable transportation alternative. It is a joyride for the affluent.”
Watch his full remarks in the video below.
WLOX quoted the other commissioners as saying ,
“Sometimes I just think we need to take a chance… We are not obligated for three years,” said councilmember John Williams. “I know we can work it out and I hope the Southern Rail Commission will find the funding to do what it is they say they are going to do… Let’s do something different.”
“We have a lot of money leaving this city going to the casinos in Mississippi and Louisiana and it’s time we keep some of that money in Alabama, in Mobile,” said councilmember C.J. Small.
“I look at this as an amenity for our citizens more than a tourist attraction but either way, it’s for our citizens so they can enjoy getting on the train and going to New Orleans or going to Mississippi,” said councilmember Gina Gregory. “I also do hope to see some tourists coming in… so that we can bring tourists into town to enjoy our little spot here on the Gulf Coast.”
“Who would pay to get on the Amtrak to come to Mobile?” questioned councilmember Frederick Richardson before answering his own question. “(People) would get on that train to come to Mardi Gras. They would get on that train to come to our ballgames. They would get on that train to come to the moon pie drop and they would get on that train to come to the cruise ships… We need every mode of transportation.”
“I believe in Mobile,” said councilmember Levon Manzie, whose support of the rail line has long been public. “I don’t put Mobile down against any city in Mississippi…and that goes for New Orleans, as well. Just as people will get on the train to travel there, I believe they will get on the train to travel here.”
Another one of the biggest and most vocal opponents of the project is Jimmy Lyons, CEO of the Alabama State Port Authority and the Port of Mobile. Lyons told AL.com “As a taxpayer, I have a significant issue with it.
“To spend money to build railroad stations along the route, and the upfront money and the certain loss the line would encounter, is going to cost a lot of taxpayer dollars. We have a lot of needs for our tax dollars. I just don’t see any benefit that would come anywhere close to justifying the taxpayer expenditures.”
Amtrak has been absent from Mobile since Hurricane Katrina damaged tracks in 2005.