Enthusiasm for the return of passenger rail service isn’t exactly pulling into the station for members of the Mobile City Council.
The body elected to punt on a resolution supporting the return of Amtrak service from Mobile to New Orleans, holding over the vote for another two weeks while the item’s language is “massaged.”
Councilman Joel Daves had the most direct criticism of the resolution that if passed would head to Gov. Kay Ivey’s office. While he maintained several times that he was not against rail service, he said he wanted to study the issue more before committing to language that asked Ivey to fund future infrastructure.
Daves said he wanted to find out the impact the service would have on the port facilities, as well as what ridership and ticket prices might look like for a train to the Crescent City.
“I’m not opposed to the return of passenger rail service, but it’s too early for this,” Daves said. “There are too many unanswered questions. The idea needs to be investigated.”
Councilman Levon Manzie, who sponsored the resolution, said without a “crystal ball” there would be no way to answer many of Daves’ questions.
“A lot of what do in this city is with hope and faith,” Manzie said. “I do know if you do nothing, you’ll get nothing.”
As it relates to the question of fares, Daves said a one-way train ticket from Washington, D.C., to Philadelphia, roughly the same distance as Mobile to New Orleans, costs an average of $90. He had doubts that passengers would be clamoring to pay the price when they could drive their cars two hours.
Councilwoman Bess Rich objected to some of the language used in the resolution, which seemed to insist Ivey help out. Councilwoman Gina Gregory had concerns as well over which entity the funding falls to if the state doesn’t pick up the tab.
“We need to make sure the city is not on the hook for all of this funding,” she said.
Mayor Sandy Stimpson also had concerns over asking for rail funding, given other needs the city will rely on the state for, like the Mobile River Bridge project and the deepening of the port.
“There are only so many times we can go to the well,” he said.
Stimpson also mentioned concern over the possibility of a passenger train, stopping in Mobile, could limit access to parking at the Mobile, Alabama Cruise Terminal.
“We need to know that a passenger rail won’t block access to the parking deck there,” he said. “We want Carnival to realize we are sensitive to their needs.”
Councilman C.J. Small said he would support the resolution as initially written, but understands Daves’ and others’ concerns over the language and the possible impact on port business. If it comes down to funding for a new bridge or funding for a passenger rail, Small said he believes a majority of Mobile residents would choose the bridge.
“I understand what Joel is saying,” he said. “I want to study it more.”
Only Councilman Fred Richardson joined Manzie in full-throated support of the resolution. Richardson said a rail line would help attract visitors to the city.
“If we don’t want anybody else to come then we need to shut down the train; we need to shut down the downtown airport,” he said. “It’ll bring commerce into the city.”
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