By: John Zippert,
On Tuesday July 19, 2016, with a giant orange railroad engine as a backdrop, the Alabama Gulf Coast Railroad held a briefing in Mt. Hebron, in Greene County – north of Boligee, to gather support for its $16.1 million Western Alabama Rail Improvement Project.
7th. District Congresswoman Terri Sewell, State Senator Bobby Singleton, State Representatives McCampbell and Howard, Greene and Sumter County Commissioners, Greene County Industrial Board members, representatives of industries along the railroad route and executives of the railroad participated in the briefing.
The Alabama Gulf Coast Railroad is a 348-mile railroad connecting Columbus, Mississippi with Mobile, Alabama and Pensacola, Florida on the Gulf Coast. The tracks pass through Pickens, Sumter, Greene, Marengo, Clarke, Washington, Wilcox, Monroe and Escambia counties on the way to the Gulf Coast. The Alabama Gulf Coast Railroad is part of the Genessee and Wyoming Railroad Company, which owns several hundred short line railroads in this country and internationally.
The $16.1 million dollar proposal would enhance tracks and make minor and major repairs to 114 bridges between Columbus and Mobile and Pensacola. These repairs are needed to accommodate larger standard rail cars that carry 286,000 pounds of freight. Currently the AGC-RxR can only accommodate cars with a capacity of 263,000 pounds – a crucial difference of 23,000 pounds.
The AGC-RxR connects with five A-1 North American Railroads, most of which are using the larger cars. Improving the tracks and bridges would allow for the AGC railroad to carry freight more efficiently for less cost to its industrial customers along the route.
The $16.1 million dollar proposal has been submitted to the U. S. Department of Transportation, as part of the TIGER Program. The Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER Discretionary Grant program, provides a unique opportunity for the DOT to invest in road, rail, transit and port projects that promise to achieve national objectives and cross regional and state lines.
Bill Jasper, President of Alabama Gulf Coast Railroad, indicated that of the $16.1 million, the company and customers along the route were providing $7,031,000 (42%) and the State of Florida DOT was providing $769,000 (5%) in matching funds. The request of the Federal government was for $8.3 million (53%).
Congresswoman Terri Sewell expressed support for the project. “These TIGER discretionary grants are highly competitive and we must answer tough questions about its impact and benefits to local communities in terms of job creation and new economic opportunities for depressed communities. This project will do a lot to impact economically depressed counties in my district, which is why I support the project,” said Sewell.
Mike Davis, manager of Chemical Waste Management in Emelle, Alabama (Sumter County) praised the project and said, “ Chem-Waste is looking at bringing in more waste in a waste-by-rail system. We have increased our tonnage in recent years by 28% and have also increased our employment by 28%. We see rail and connections with northern sources of waste as a way to grow and increase our business.
We know that the bridges must be strengthened to bring in full cars of waste supplies to our facilities.”
Ken Tucker, president of the University of West Alabama in Livingston, Alabama, said “ This project will bring workforce training opportunities, job creation and employment to the entire western Alabama corridor to the Gulf. Many of our graduates want to stay and work and live in the Alabama Black Belt but they are forced to move away. This project will bring opportunities to the unemployed, under-employed and graduates of our university. We hope it is fully funded.”
Phillis Belcher, Director of the Greene County Industrial Development Authority, said, “Our Crossroads of America Industrial Park, in Boligee, lies along the route of the Alabama Gulf Coast Rail Road. We have a switch and a spur of tracks that come into our industrial park, from the main rail line. We recently improved our tracks and we are ready for the increased development that will come from this needed Federal infrastructure project.”
Another participant in the briefing said, “You have to be careful and make sure that when the Federal government provides support for this kind of project that the benefits actually flow to the people and communities that need them the most.
Bill Jasper urged people who support the project to write a letter to: Anthony Fox, Secretary of Transportation, Department of Transportation, 1200 New Jersey Avenue SE, Washington, D. C. 20590.