Train robbery? Rail line plan will hurt south Alabama

Published 8:28 pm Wednesday, May 3, 2006

By Staff
It's been called a &#8220boondoggle,” a &#8220train robbery” and a &#8220railroad to nowhere.”
And those comments are from Mississippi Sens. Trent Lott and Thad Cochran's fellow Republicans.
The senators have included $700 million to rebuild CSX rail lines away from the gulf coast in an emergency funding bill already controversial for constant add-ons.
The plan would apparently reroute CSX's rail line away from the gulf coast, which the senators and the railroad have said is necessary to avoid flooding and other problems caused by hurricanes in the region. The federal government has already spent $250 million to rebuild the CSX line along the coast after Hurricane Katrina.
It's not clear yet what effect moving the line away from Mobile would have on Escambia County, but our rail service does connect to Mobile. If the plan goes through, the county wouldn't necessarily lose service, but it could limit the trains we see in the area.
Industries in our area depend on CSX and other short-line services, and the rail service is a selling point economic developers can use to lure new industries.
Lott, Cochran and the railroad may be right about short-term damage from hurricanes - but the long-term damage to the coast's economic development would be even greater.
And with the Port of Mobile growing, it doesn't make sense for Alabama or Mississippi to give up rail service that could take advantage of the opportunities the port provides.
Senators and others in opposition of the plan - which could come to a vote later this week - say the railroad plan amounts to pork. They're right; why should taxpayers foot the bill to rebuild a private rail line, especially since they already funded $250 million in repairs?
But for south Alabama, the greater cost is not the relocating of the rail line itself, but the effects that could have on our region.
That &#8220railroad to nowhere” could leave Mobile and the surrounding area far behind.