The federal spending bill President Donald Trump signed into law Friday includes major increases for railway projects that affect Anniston and the Gulf Coast.
The final bill represents the largest single year increase for Amtrak’s budget, according to a news release from the Southern Rail Commission.
Knox Ross, vice chairman of the commission, said railway officials did have concerns about federal commitment to the national railway system. But with the budget’s passage, “Congress has made a very clear statement that they expect that national system to run and be run well,” he said.
More than $1 billion will go toward the national rail network. That network includes the Crescent Line, which connects New York and New Orleans via Atlanta, Anniston and Birmingham.
Ross said it remains to be seen exactly how Amtrak management will spend the money earmarked for the national network.
Of the almost $600 million set aside for infrastructure and safety improvement, more than $35 million is to restore lost passenger rail service on the Gulf Coast to provide a route from New Orleans to Orlando. Much of the route has been out of service since Hurricane Katrina hit the coast.
According to the release, a 2015 study found the estimated annual operating cost for long-distance trains from New Orleans to Orlando is $5.48 million and adding a state-supported route from New Orleans to Mobile would cost an additional $4 million per year.
Ross said the commission is “very optimistic” about state and local support for the New Orleans to Mobile route. Louisiana has committed to its matching money, and the commission is in talks with Mississippi and Alabama officials.
Nearly $300 million of the safety and infrastructure appropriations will go toward technology called positive train control, a system that better controls the movement of trains to prevent collisions and derailments.
“Amtrak applauds Congress for providing increased funding for intercity passenger rail, including grants to Amtrak, in the Fiscal Year 2018 Omnibus Appropriations Bill. Amtrak thanks Congress for recognizing the importance of intercity passenger rail and the Northeast Corridor,” Amtrak President & CEO Richard Anderson said in a written statement.