A federal board overseeing the return of passenger rail service from New Orleans, Louisiana to Mobile, Alabama has a very simple question for Amtrak, the passenger rail service of record in the case. That question is simply this, "What is going on"?

Stephen Mease via Unsplash.com
Stephen Mease via Unsplash.com
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Members of the U.S. Surface Transportation Board met with those involved in the project that would provide passenger rail service from New Orleans across Coastal Mississippi and into Alabama with a stop in Mobile. There has been an agreement between the parties involved in place for more than a year and board members want to know why more hasn't been done.

One commissioner chastised Amtrak by suggesting that the rail provider was not acting as if the Gulf South rail project was a "high priority" even though Amtrak has repeatedly stated that it was. Martin Oberman, the chairman of the STB even suggested that it shouldn't take 14 months to negotiate a lease if you wanted to reach an agreement.

Oleski Hlembotskyi via Unsplash.com
Oleski Hlembotskyi via Unsplash.com
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The project has been operating under a loose timetable that would begin passenger rail service between New Orleans and Mobile in October of 2024. The current challenges being faced by the project and the lack of movement, as pointed out by the STB, are threatening that timetable.

One of the project's other sticking points, the agreement on a temporary and eventual permanent train station in Mobile is reportedly progressing. The City of Mobile Alabama did not have a representative at the STB hearing but according to reports no timetable on if and when an agreement on a station would be in place.

CoasterFan2105
CoasterFan2105
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The rail service was to be funded by a $178 million federal grant but that could be in jeopardy if Amtrak and the other principles involved can't come to a final agreement with the City of Mobile on where new track and a new station can be built. Rail service between Louisiana and Alabama was interrupted back in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina destroyed a lot of infrastructure needed to operate trains in the area.

The plan for the service was to begin twice daily service between New Orleans and Mobile with four stops along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Those stops would be Pascagoula, Biloxi, Gulfport, and Bay St. Louis. Amtrak has been making training runs along that stretch of track for almost a year now. Let's hope they'll be making those runs for real sometime before the end of this year.

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