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Good Things Happen When You Show Up

February 4, 2020

The up and down and up-again saga of Gulf Coast restoration proves the value of engagement

by Jim Mathews / President & CEO

Although the politicking for the past few weeks made it a real nail-biter, today the Mobile City Council did the right thing and voted 6-1 to move forward with its share of the funding to bring rail service back to at least a small segment of the Gulf Coast -- Mobile to New Orleans.

It's a huge win for all the communities from Alabama through Mississippi and Louisiana that I've been visiting for years to push this along. And it wouldn’t have happened without the work of our members, the Southern Rail Commission, Transportation for America, Amtrak, and forward-looking elected officials in Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. We can’t thank these people enough, and we’re ready to get to work to get this train up and running. There's one other small hurdle -- Mobile is requiring a study proving that the service won't tangle up the Port of Alabama -- but we all know that four trains a day won't crimp the port.

But this is a great time to foot-stomp something else that came out of this episode. Pressure from regular citizens living and working in Mobile really helped to make this happen. AL.com columnist John Archibald made an absolutely crucial point this afternoon, a point that's relevant not only for Gulf Coast restoration but for all of our efforts as an Association to Connect America with more trains, better trains and better infrastructure.

"It’s almost like – I can’t believe I’m seeing this – the people got what they wanted," Archibald wrote. "It’s almost like – I can’t believe I’m saying it – the government grudgingly listened."

He's right. A lot of folks I talk with on my travels around the country grumble that things aren't working the way they want. But when I ask about their willingness to visit their Mayors, their local elected officials, their local congressional offices or to come out for hearings about rail service, their intensity fades. Let's be clear: Mobile showed up. And Mobile's elected officials listened.

Our team here at the Association -- spearheaded by VP Policy Sean Jeans-Gail and our field team of organizers Joe Aiello and Madi Butler -- worked closely with dozens of advocates at the organizations I named above. Everyone involved has worked for more than a decade to get to this morning's vote, and all I can think about is all of the wonderful folks I've met in these communities along the Gulf Coast waiting for service to resume. They're going to get their way.

It's almost like showing up and speaking out really works.