BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Improvements are coming to Birmingham’s Amtrak station after the Birmingham Jefferson County Transit Authority received federal grant money this week.
The Southern Rail Commission awarded Birmingham $250,000 that can be used to enhance accessibility, improve ridership, and expand economic opportunities associated with station redevelopment.
“This is an effort to try to provide funding to assist us to clean up the area prior to the World Games,” said Frank T. Martin, CEO of the BJCTA.
An aging waiting area with graffiti is the first sight for passengers who unload from routes that go towards New Orleans and Atlanta.
Martin said grant money will help make a better first impression.
“Right now I can tell you, visually, when they get off they are seeing decayed area, overgrown weeds,” Martin said.
With thousands of visitors expected for the World Games next summer, Martin believes many will come by train.
While Birmingham has invested a lot in the new Max Transit Center and Intermodal Facility, the passenger rail area could use a facelift.
“You’ve got this nice new $64 million facility and then you walk through a tunnel onto the passenger platform and it is in bad shape,” said Birmingham City Councilor Darrell O’Quinn, who is also on the city’s transportation committee.
The station currently uses an old freight elevator to help passengers in a wheelchair. Martin intends to use the money for upgrades.
“We need to make sure over time that the facility is compliant with current ADA guidelines and we are working very closely with Amtrak and CSX to accomplish those goals,” said Martin.
Birmingham joined three other cities along the Mississippi gulf coast to receive grant money from the SRC.
“Birmingham is a central transport hub in the South, and we fully understand the vitality that investments in transit-oriented development can bring,” said SRC Secretary and Alabama Commissioner Stephen McNair. “Birmingham’s project will create seamless connections for travelers between long distance passenger rail and local transit service through its beautiful multimodal station.”
Amtrak has announced intent to begin passenger rail service between Mobile and New Orleans in January 2022. Birmingham could benefit from future passenger rail expansions.
“Birmingham, being in the central portion of the state, I think we will serve as a hub for trains going to Huntsville, or even some of the ones that go further north as well as going south,” said Valerie (Vicki) Rivers, the former BJCTA Chief Administrative Officer.
Martin credited Rivers for her work on the grant. The BJCTA said grant money will be matched with around $300 million in state money.
Efforts from State Senators Jabo Waggoner and Rodger Smitherman were crucial to securing the money, Martin said.
BJCTA leadership said there are additional improvements planned for the future. City leaders recognize the transit center as an economic engine and are optimistic about what’s farther down the tracks.
“They have a much larger renovation of the platform that they would like to perform and I think this $250,000 is moving us closer towards accomplishing that goal,” said O’Quinn.
Work could begin soon, Martin said. He hopes to have most of the improvements finished by Summer 2022.
For more details on the SRC grants, click here.