Anniston is among 11 local governments in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana that will receive grants to improve railway stations along Amtrak’s Crescent Line, the Southern Rail Commission announced Monday.
The city will receive $138,000, a slice of the $2.4 million in Federal Railway Administration money awarded by the commission on Monday. The money is to be used for passenger rail station upgrades or construction, and some of it will go to Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, and Mobile, as well as to cities in Louisiana and Mississippi.
In Anniston, city officials say the money will be spent extending the city’s Amtrak station platform by 400 feet.
The extension will allow trains that stop at the station to load and unload baggage and bicycles, according to a July letter from Amtrak to the city expressing support for the project.
Allowing passengers to bring bikes into Anniston on the Crescent Line — which stretches from New Orleans to New York — “fits into our bigger plans to make Anniston much more bike friendly,” city manager Kent Davis said by phone Monday.
Davis referenced efforts to extend the Chief Ladiga Trail into Anniston and new cycling signage on city streets, as well as a project to build a new trailhead and parking lot serving Coldwater Mountain Bike Trail.
“If we make Amtrak more bike friendly as well, it could bring in more cyclists,” Davis said. Those cyclists bring with them out-of-town money “that has a big effect on the local economy,” he said.
Officials already “get a lot of interest” from cyclists who might want to make the trip in to Anniston by train, city planner Toby Bennington said by phone Friday.
“We concluded we obviously needed to go after that grant, to keep up with the demand for eco-tourism and biking,” Bennington said of the money.
The money will be made available early next year, according to a release from the railway commission, with projects funded likely completed within two years.
Bennington, a member of the rail commission, said Amtrak trains pulling to Anniston’s 600-foot-long platform now have to perform what’s called a “double stop.”
The trains pull in, offload a certain number of cars, then have to either back up or pull forward to unload the rest, Bennington said.
The planned extension will eliminate that start-and-stop, adding 400 feet of platform space across West Fourth Street, he said.
The expanded station still won’t be manned, Bennington said.
Norfolk Southern owns the land on which the extra platform space would be built, and the city planner said early discussions about the project with the company were “very positive.”
Efforts Monday to reach a spokeswoman with Norfolk Southern were unsuccessful.