Tuesday, May 08, 2012

STB OKs Michigan DOT rail line buy

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The Surface Transportation Board Tuesday officially cleared the way for Michigan's Department of Transportation to acquire two sections of rail right-of-way from Norfolk Southern Corp., totaling about 135 miles, for eventual upgrading to 110 mph passenger rail speeds.

Michigan's DOT filed an Acquisition Exemption in early April. STB Docket Number FD_35606_0 identifies NS trackage "extending from (1) approximately milepost 7.60 at townline in Wayne County, Mich., to approximately milepost 119.60 at CP Baron in Calhoun County, Mich., a distance of approximately 112.0 miles, and (2) approximately milepost 121.39 in Gord, Calhoun County, Mich., to approximately milepost 145.60 Kalamazoo, Kalamazoo County, Mich., a distance of approximately 24.21 miles."

STB said in part, "The State of Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) does not need Board authorization to acquire certain assets of a rail line in Wayne, Washtenaw, Jackson, Calhoun and Kalamazoo Counties, Mich. The seller, Norfolk Southern Railway Company, will retain the legal obligation to provide freight service and MDOT will not be able to interfere unreasonably with that service. Therefore, MDOT will not be considered a rail carrier under Federal law."stb logo

STB clarified, "We find that 49 U.S.C. § 10901 does not apply to this sale of the physical assets of a rail line to a state agency because the selling rail carrier will retain an exclusive, perpetual easement to fulfill its freight rail common carrier obligations on the rail line, and the purchaser cannot unduly interfere with the freight rail service."

Michigan DOT seeks to purchase the right-of-way to improve Amtrak intercity passenger service speeds and frequency between Chicago and Detroit and also between Chicago and Port Huron, Mich.

Amtrak owns the portion of the route between Porter, Ind., and Kalamazoo, Mich., which already has been upgraded to 110 mph speeds, following successful installation and testing of a Positive Train Control system that can support higher-speed rail (HrSR). The PTC technology is GE Transportation's ITCS (Incremental Train Control System).