Amtrak, the train service, does not currently offer passenger service from Mobile to New Orleans. That may be about to change — if the state of Alabama and its local governments commit to a few million dollars a year.

The rail passenger service could restart within two to three years, although Mobile has yet to agree on the site of a new train station. The old one was located near the state docks, but it was blown away by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Mobile has not had train passenger service since.

That site of the old terminal is among parcels being considered for a new terminal, but officials fear that it would cause problems with traffic at the cruise ship terminal and possibly the state docks.

Also being discussed is a new site at Brookley and the now functioning downtown airport. There, train passenger service could be located near air and I-10 traffic.

But it will be possible only if state and local governments commit up to $5 million a year to refurbish rail lines, build the terminal and pay a portion of the operating costs indefinitely. The Mobile City Council is expected to discuss it at a meeting near the end of the month. Gov. Kay Ivey has been non-committal until she learns more about costs of the project.

Louisiana and Mississippi have already committed sizable sums to make Gulf Coast train passenger service a reality. The plan is for high-speed passenger trains to depart Mobile and New Orleans for round-trips four times a day and to make multiple stops in Mississippi.  

No good estimate is available as to how much of the costs would be funded by fares.

Amtrak once had a bad name because stations were less than pristine and trains were unreliable in departing and arriving on time. Officials promise to do better if train passenger service on the Gulf again becomes a reality around 2023.

Let’s hope they do or this will become another boondoggle!

The one experience I had with Amtrak was when our children were very small — we were taking them for a weekend to visit my brother, Hollis, and his family in New Orleans. We decided to drive to Jackson, Mississippi, and board Amtrak for the trip on down to New Orleans.

At the station the restroom was so dirty that I had to hold my toddler daughter over a commode to use the facilities. I came out and told my wife, Nikki, that I thought we should just drive on down.

Amtrak currently makes stops in Anniston, Birmingham and Tuscaloosa on the route from New York to New Orleans. Passenger service along the Gulf would be an attractive alternative to driving and just seems to make sense—if it can be made reasonably cost-effective.

Retired Auburn Attorney Don Eddins is publisher of The Auburn Villager newspaper and the online publication, auburnvillager.com. Before going into law, he was state Capitol reporter for The Huntsville Times and state editor for The Columbus Ledger. In college, he was sports editor of The Auburn Plainsman. Email him your comments about the newspaper to doneddins@auburnlaw.us.

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