Happening Now

Real Progress For New Trains Between Mobile and New Orleans

May 3, 2024

By Jim Mathews / President & CEO

Amtrak managers are due to appear before Mobile’s Board of Zoning Adjustment on Monday, where they expect to secure a special exception to build a passenger-train platform with ADA parking in downtown Mobile. It’s one more step in clearing the way for construction to begin this summer in hopes of launching service between New Orleans and Mobile before the end of the year.

“Assuming the Board of Zoning Adjustment approves the application, and no appeals are filed” within a legally required 15-day period following Monday’s hearing, “Amtrak anticipates securing the zoning special exception on May 23, 2024,” the four Gulf Coast service “parties” – Amtrak, CSX, Norfolk Southern, and the Port of Alabama – told the Surface Transportation Board this week in a joint status report.

The status reports are the result of a frustrated STB ordering public reporting on progress following a February hearing demanding details on why the restoration of that service seemed to stall.

Amtrak has been sharing with the Federal Railroad Administration iterations of its plans for speeding environmental reviews for the platform project under rules known as categorical exemptions (CEs) throughout this process, and told the Surface Transportation Board this week that it will submit its final categorical exemption worksheet for review once the special exemption is official. “Amtrak expects FRA’s review and approval of the CE Worksheet to be completed by the end of May 2024.”

That means the trickiest part for launching the new New Orleans-Mobile daily train is just ahead: getting the Mobile City Council to vote in favor of the City’s lease agreement for the property where the platform-station will sit, and to re-approve the Federal Restoration and Enhancement Grant matching funding the previous Council approved a couple of years ago.

There are seven voting members on the City Council. The last time this issue came up for a vote, the Council voted 5 to 2 in favor, and the hope is that the upcoming vote will turn out the same way. There’s strong public and civic support for the Gulf Coast service restoration, and a group of local advocates in Mobile – Friends of Amtrak-Mobile – has now grown to some 600 members working to create the political environment to push this project over the finish line. They’re doing a fantastic job, and they deserve your support!

Amtrak, CSX, and the Port of Alabama have been meeting every two weeks since mid-March to try to smooth out any remaining problems, and leaders from all of those parties have made a point of meeting with Mobile’s political leadership to confirm their continued support for moving ahead.

Amtrak and the City of Mobile are due to meet again in-person on Monday and Tuesday.

Amtrak told the Surface Transportation Board it hopes not only that the City Council will schedule a vote to approve both the new lease agreement and the matching-funds affirmation this month, but that “these agreements will be executed by early June 2024.”

It’s a critical timeline, but if it can hold up we may yet see another new service launched in 2024 on the heels of the Amtrak Borealis between Chicago and the Twin Cities – the Mardi Gras on the Gulf Coast!

The Gulf Coast docket at the STB is Docket FD 36496.