Friday, March 16, 2012

Amtrak, Michigan cry foul over NS slow order

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Amtrak and the Michigan Department of Transportation late Thursday publicly protested a decision by Norfolk Southern enacting speed restrictions of 25 to 30 mph on NS track between Kalamazoo and Ann Arbor. The decisions slow Amtrak Wolverine Service trains linking Chicago and Detroit from previous speeds of 79 mph; Amtrak advised passengers to expect delays of 45 to 90 minutes more than scheduled running times.

Amtrak and MDOT also anticipated less severe delays the Amtrak Blue Water to and from Chicago and Port Huron, via East Lansing and Flint.

amtrak logo"The decision by Norfolk Southern to reduce train speeds on the track shared with the Amtrak Wolverine and Blue Water services will have a serious impact on passenger service, and could cause delays for freight shippers, too," said Tim Hoeffner, director of the MDOT's Office of Rail.

NS offered its own take on the situation Friday afternoon, noting, "These lower speed limits have been imposed to reflect the maximum safe operating speeds for the line, given the line's condition. Safety is of paramount importance in both passenger and freight rail operations."

It added, "The reduction in railroad operating speed limits both has been anticipated over time and is in conformance with existing agreements between Norfolk Southern and Amtrak. Other portions of the Michigan mainline experienced similar reductions in railroad operating speed limits in 2011. Some of those 2011 speed reductions were later eliminated as the result of work funded by Michigan DOT.

Amtrak and MDOT clearly saw the move, at the very least, as one of bad timing, saying, "The slow orders from NS come while it is negotiating to complete the sale of the line to the State of Michigan. These orders come less than four weeks after a celebration of increased speeds up to 110 mph on the Amtrak-owned portion of this line in western Michigan and northwest Indiana."NS logo square

Countered John V. Edwards, Norfolk Southern's general director passenger policy, "Until ownership of the Michigan Line is transferred, Norfolk Southern is willing to perform work on the line on behalf of Amtrak or Michigan DOT to address any passenger operating concern."He added, "This work is not necessary to provide freight service, but if the passenger service providers want to provide the necessary funding, we will do it."