Atmore was not included among a list of cities that were awarded federal grants for construction of or enhancement to railroad station facilities, but there’s a good reason for that. The city never applied for the grants.
Mayor Jim Staff said this week that city officials decided to take a “wait-and-see” attitude toward preparations for the anticipated restoration of passenger rail service to the Gulf Coast.
“We’ve got to have a sure thing,” Staff said. “If Congress approves the funding for the rail service, we’ll know far enough ahead of time that we’ll be able to do what we have to do to our station. We’re looking down the line, at whether or not (the rail service plan) comes through.”
The Southern Rail Commission announced Monday that 11 cities in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana would share more than $2 million in Federal Railroad Administration grants for planning and construction projects that “will ensure safe access and better connectivity to and from the station, improved convenience for riders, updated facilities and leveraged economic opportunity that comes with station redevelopment.”
Four Alabama cities were awarded total funding of $728,957. Tuscaloosa received the biggest slice of the grant pie, $314,457 for construction of a new station. Anniston received $139,500; Birmingham got $150,000; Mobile was awarded $125,000.
Grants were also awarded to Baton Rouge, Gonzalez and St. John Parish in Louisiana, and to Bay St. Louis, Biloxi, Gulfport and Pascagoula in Mississippi. The money will be allocated in early 2017, and completion of all grant-funded projects is expected within 24 months.
Many of those areas already have Amtrak-ready facilities, but most lost service when Hurricane Katrina destroyed the rail infrastructure in 2005, pointed out SRC Secretary-Treasurer Knox Ross in a press release announcing the grants.
Atmore is expected to serve as a hub for the restored railroad operation, including plans for regular passenger service between here, New Orleans and Mobile. A large crowd was on hand when Amtrak’s “inspection train tour” made a stop here in February of this year.
Mayor Staff said the city already has a plan in place for bringing the local station up to speed, when and if the plan to revive rail service gets the green light.
“If things come along like they’re supposed to, we’ll have to change our station some,” he said. “We’ll close in the open part, and we’ll make the closed-in part a unisex bathroom. If this thing comes, the biggest thing we’ll have to do is pick our ramp up several inches, something that will accommodate handicapped people. That, and put a sign up, is about all we’ll have to do.”
Staff added that the city would be ready, if and when passenger rail service again becomes a reality. Until then, the city would wait.
“We’re going to make it happen,” he vowed. “When we know definitely, for sure, that it’s coming, we’ll be ready when it gets here. We’ll be able to accommodate passengers, but we’re not going to cut off our nose to spite our face.”