MOBILE, Ala. (AP) — Plans to resume passenger train service on the northern Gulf Coast for the first time since Hurricane Katrina suffered a setback with Alabama and Mississippi refusing money for the project, but a leader of the effort said Friday the project isn’t dead.
Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi had to pledge almost $35 million total over three years by Thursday to be eligible for the same amount in federal funds that would enable Amtrak trains to run from New Orleans eastward to Mobile, Alabama.
Neither Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey nor Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant agreed although Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards committed to spend as much as $8 million, saying passenger rail would provide “tremendous benefits” to the region.
Knox Ross, vice chair of the Southern Rail Commission, said the refusal by Alabama and Mississippi makes the project more difficult but doesn’t kill the plan.
“I think we just take a look at what the problems were and try to respond to them so we can move forward,” he said.
Amtrak suspended service east of New Orleans after Katrina caused heavy damage in 2006. Advocates see the resumption of New Orleans-to-Mobile trains as a major step toward expanding passenger trains elsewhere in the region.
In a statement explaining his refusal to commit money, Ivey cited potential problems with freight train service to the Port of Mobile, which would share the same track. The state also is trying to address road congestion in the area with a proposed new Mobile Bay bridge, she said.
“I am hopeful that one day we may have the luxury of providing financial support for passenger rail service, but now is not the time when we have other challenges which must take priority,” Ivey said.
Ivey’s Democratic opponent in the November gubernatorial race, Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox, called Ivey’s decision a failure.
“This is not about passenger rail versus freight; this is about the past versus the future. This decision continues Governor Ivey’s pattern of outdated governing that keeps Alabama at or near the bottom in everything that matters,” Maddox said in a statement.