There was an interesting article in Sunday's Montgomery Advertiser. It seems there is some interest in bringing intercity passenger rail service back to several Alabama cities. Since Katrina, Amtrak has run only one route, the Crescent, through the state, stopping at stations in Tuscaloosa, Birmingham, and Anniston on the way between New Orleans and New York. Amtrak has shown interest in bringing back service between Mobile and Birmingham, a route that ran as the Gulf Breeze between 1989 and 1995. It would be part of a plan to increase Amtrak service in the Southeast region, which the rail company believes is "underserved."
According to the Advertiser, a state passenger rail plan is being developed using stimulus funds by the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA). In most states, the state DOT performs this study, but ALDOT legally can't do it, as seen with a proposed regional feasibility study of a high-speed rail line between Atlanta and New Orleans. Thank your state Constitution of 1901 for that bit of ignorance.
So, what would this mean for Huntsville? According to Huntsville's long-term transportation plan, there have been preliminary studies on introducing a Huntsville-Birmingham passenger rail service. But they were done back when Amtrak wasn't doing too great financially, and wasn't looking to expand service. Maybe now they would be more eager to start such a route. A north-south passenger rail service through the state could also be extended to Nashville, another city that currently lacks Amtrak service.
And here's another idea-- you know that "Memphis-Huntsville-Atlanta highway" pipe dream that's never going to get built? How about looking into an electrified high-speed freight/passenger rail line between the three cities? It would be cheaper, more fuel-efficient, and faster than a highway. Think about it: right now, it takes about 4 hours to (legally) get from Huntsville to Atlanta via highway. A direct highway would get you there in about 2 1/2, if you don't get stuck in traffic. A high-speed rail line, even with a low average speed of 85 mph, could make the trip in less than 2 hours-- and no traffic.
Finally, a little bit of trivia: the last time there was regular passenger rail service to Huntsville was in 1968. However, an Amtrak service called the Floridian stopped in Decatur until 1979.
Southern High Speed Rail Commission
Federal Railroad Administration: Passenger Rail