MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - A rail developer has set its sights on the Capital City for a new state-wide network of passenger trains.
It's a project that's been talked about for years, but now it's taking shape in the form of a public-private partnership and officials say it will have a major economic impact.
J. William McFarland Jr., the Governor's Designee to the Southern Rail Commission, says the new system will usher in a new era of train travel in Alabama. He's been working for years to find a way to make rail travel available to more people throughout the state, including the rural areas.
McFarland Jr. thinks the formation of the new system, called Alabama Corridor Rail, will improve transportation and fuel major growth and investment.
"We feel that this is a major step forward for passenger rail but also for economic development, transportation and jobs for the people of our state and particularly in the Montgomery, River Region area," McFarland said.
Montgomery will be the southeastern headquarters for the new system. The developer, Corridor Capital Rail, is also looking at two different possible locations for a train depot in the heart of downtown, near the Biscuits stadium and restaurants.
Amtrak's Crescent Route currently serves Birmingham, Tuscaloosa and Anniston running once per day, but the rest of the state has been without passenger train service for many years.
"One of the first of many routes that they hope to launch is the old Gulf Breeze route but instead of going from Mobile to Montgomery to Birmingham, they want to link Mobile to Montgomery to Birmingham all the way up to Huntsville with intermittent stops in smaller communities such as Atmore and also provide multiple frequencies each day to give the traveler more options instead of only one train per day," McFarland explained.
Corridor Capital's chairman, James Coston, issued the following statement Friday regarding the new Alabama based, Gulf Coast Region system:
The first train is expected to roll out in 18 months, using existing CSX rails. Alabama Corridor Rail is designed to be created and operated independent of any involvement with Amtrak.
"We fill very confident that the people of Alabama will have some additional options when it comes to taking family vacations, traveling for business or any other need that they would have involving rail travel," McFarland said. "It's one that doesn't rely on taxpayer bailouts and ballooning annual operating subsidies from the government…We feel like it's a good value for the state and a true private-public partnership that will create jobs and help Alabama grow."
Robert Smith, Montgomery's Director of Planning, says a study is underway to determine the feasibility of returning passenger rail service from Birmingham to Montgomery to Mobile. The first phase is complete and the second phase is underway.
"It's a good strategic move for Corridor Capital Rail to have a headquarters in Montgomery where a lot of decisions are made. This will be a great resource we can tap into to move the project forward from the feasibility stage to the implementation phase," he said.
Corridor Capital Rail will open its Montgomery office by July 1st.
Former state representative Perry O. Hooper Jr. lobbied to make sure that the corporate headquarters within Alabama would be located in Montgomery.
The average Alabama Corridor Rail job will pay $60,000 annually. The network will employ hundreds of Alabamians. Terminals and maintenance facilities will be built using private capital. Construction costs are estimated at $40 million.
By year five, the rail system is expected to have $25 million in annual contracts and purchases in Alabama.