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Reality Check: Questioning the existence of Amtrak

(WPMI FILE) Reality Check: Amtrak
(WPMI FILE) Reality Check: Amtrak

Amtrak is a word that represents a world of possibilities here on the Gulf Coast.

But in the northeast, Amtrak is a way of life for daily commuters.

At least it was before the coronavirus came to town.

"This is the first time that I can speak for the transport workers union of America losing employees to furlough over the last four years," said John Feltz, the Vice President and Rail Division Director for the Transport Workers Union of America.

In a letter to Congress, Amtrak warns that an additional 2,400 jobs will be cut without more federal assistance, telling lawmakers, "Business remains at about 25% of pre-COVID levels. Based on our current forecast, our fiscal year 2021 ridership and revenue are forecast to improve to about 40% of pre-COVID levels, which is weaker than anticipated."

Amtrak is asking lawmakers for $5 billion to keep the service going.

"So, if Amtrak is struggling to stay afloat in the most commuter rich region of America, will that have an effect on efforts to bring Amtrak to Mobile?" asked NBC 15's Darwin Singleton.

"None right now. We're still collaborating, we're still trying to figure out a few facts so we can make that final decision," said David Clark, a member of the Southern Rail Commission.

The Southern Rail Commission is a coalition of representatives from Louisiana, Mississippi and Mobile, trying to reestablish regular passenger train service from Louisiana to Mobile.

Clark says, even as commuter rail ridership has dropped in other places, Mobile's proposed route faces a different set of challenges.

"We're still collaborating. In fact, the Southern Rail Commission in Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama just met a couple of weeks ago to collaborate on what those opportunities and obstacles are. And the one thing that we're working on is the Norfolk Southern, CSX stuff," Clark said.

That "stuff" is a 19-mile stretch of track between Mobile's Brookley Aeroplex and the Mississippi state line -- tracks that have to be shared with freight trains coming to and from the Alabama State Port in Mobile.

"If it would interfere, it would probably cause an additional investment for that reason," said Clark.

That effect is being studied right now, with results expected in January.

And that delay could play in Mobile's favor.

Clarks says if things go well, trains wouldn't likely run until the end of 2022, and hopefully long after the coronavirus pandemic has passed.