- Associated Press - Sunday, December 25, 2016

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) - Some of Alabama’s largest cities are getting federal help for projects that involve upgrading their train stations or developing new ones.

Birmingham, Mobile, Anniston and Tuscaloosa are each getting a share of $728,957 in grants for Alabama, Al.com reported (https://bit.ly/2hZbfKf ).

Also receiving grants are Baton Rouge, Gonzales and St. John Parish in Louisiana, and Biloxi, Gulfport and Pascagoula in Mississippi.

The money had been earmarked years ago, and officials with the Southern Rail Commission recently doled it out to the four cities, the news site reported.

All told, the three states are getting $2.5 million in federal money for train station-related projects.

In Mobile, a $125,000 grant will go toward developing a master plan and architectural designs for a new train station that would serve the potential re-started New Orleans-to-Orlando Gulf Coast route.

“It’s the very step needed for them toward the ultimate development of a new train station for this Gulf Coast service,” said Greg White, an Andalusia, Alabama, resident and chairman of the Southern Rail Commission.

The Gulf Coast line, which has since been upgraded for CSX freight trains, has been without passenger rail service since Hurricane Katrina damaged it in 2005.

A report analyzing the return of Amtrak along the Gulf Coast is expected to be submitted to the Federal Railroad Administration by January. Mobile is among the few cities along the route without a train station. The previous station, at the foot of Government Street on Water Street, was wiped out by Katrina.

The largest of Alabama’s grants - $314,457 - is going to the Tuscaloosa area. The money will go toward the city’s commitment on a $1.8 million new train station in the Alberta City area. The new station is being built in an area that was among the most heavily damaged from the April 2011 tornado outbreaks that devastated the Tuscaloosa area.

In Birmingham, part of its $150,000 grant will pay for renovating a corridor connecting the city’s new Intermodal facility along Morris Avenue and the existing Amtrak building to the train’s platform. The money will also pay for some upgrades of the existing waiting rooms inside the Amtrak facility, said Andre Bittas, director of the Birmingham Department of Planning, Engineering & Permits.

In Anniston, $139,500 will go toward extending the train platform by 400 feet, hopefully ending the need for the Amtrak Crescent to stop twice when it arrives in the northeast Alabama city. The Crescent has to back up, and make a second stop at the same station because the platform isn’t long enough.

Other grants were awarded in Louisiana and Mississippi, according to the Southern Rail Commission:

- Baton Rouge, Louisiana: Station area conceptual plan, $250,000

- Gonzales, Louisiana: Site design for new rail station, $50,000

- St. John Parish, Louisiana: Planning and design for new rail station, $75,000

- Bay St. Louis, Mississippi: Canopy improvements, trackside improvements, and ADA compliant access, $55,000

- Biloxi, Mississippi: Passenger rail platform and pedestrian access connecting to transit station nearby, $252,000

- Gulfport, Mississippi: Construction of a new platform canopy with lighting, ADA improvements, sidewalk improvements and landscaping, $190,000

- Pascagoula, Mississippi: Improvements to restore the historic train station, $659,543.

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Information from: Press-Register, https://www.al.com/press-register/

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