Amtrak on July 8 said it will renew its request that the Surface Transportation Board (STB) intervene on its behalf if CSX and Norfolk Southern (NS) don’t cooperate on hosting new passenger service between New Orleans and Mobile.
In an STB filing planned for submission this week, Amtrak did note that the Class I railroads have responded to its call for access so it can prepare for a service launch on or around Jan. 1, 2022.
In the filing (download below), Amtrak wrote that it “respectfully renews its request for expedited treatment of its [March 16, 2021] application asking that the Board institute a proceeding and establish the procedural schedule proposed by Amtrak” for a hearing, followed by an order requiring CSX and NS to allow Amtrak to operate twice daily round-trip Gulf Coast service on their lines. In addition, Amtrak “respectfully seeks expedited treatment of the pending motion to dismiss and motions to strike.”
Also in its March 16 filing, Amtrak asked the STB to “issue an interim order requiring CSX and NS to provide Amtrak with access to their rail lines between New Orleans and Mobile in order to perform all necessary preparations for the Gulf Coast service….” Both have responded, Amtrak told STB in this week’s planned filing:
“By letter dated June 30, 2021, CSX granted Amtrak’s request for access to CSX property and personnel so that Amtrak can: (1) conduct a survey for an interim layover track in Mobile; (2) undertake repairs to stations in Bay St. Louis, Gulfport, Biloxi, Pascagoula, and Mobile; and (3) begin the process of qualifying Amtrak crews to operate along the Gulf Coast corridor. By letter dated May 17, 2021, NS stated that Amtrak’s existing service over NS lines in New Orleans would fully facilitate Amtrak’s access to the safety and operational information Amtrak sought to obtain.”
Accordingly, Amtrak wrote that it is moving forward with Gulf Coast service preparations. It also reiterated that “[t]he restoration of passenger service between New Orleans and Mobile is an important piece of a national vision to make intercity passenger rail service a more vital part of the nation’s transportation system, offering connections between communities in heavily populated corridors across America; alleviating worsening congestion on highways and service reductions in the aviation system; and encouraging use of a more sustainable, energy efficient, and environmentally friendly means of travel than other modes. The residents of the Gulf Coast have already waited many years to have their passenger rail service restored such that this vision can become a reality.”
How will the STB proceed? Railway Age Contributing Editor and veteran rail economist Jim Blaze provided his views on June 17:
- “The STB will likely tread carefully. It may be very deliberate and test decisions in a step-like function. There is precedent for probing the parties to reach independent terms. Will that be the outcome here for the Amtrak dispute? Hard to tell.
- “The STB might be better-served by ordering the parties in the Gulf Coast case to demonstrate a series of Amtrak test train runs. That would provide evidence of operational conflicts and give engineers a practical manner upon which to base capex solutions.
- “STB Chairman Marty Oberman has taken to openly discussing pending rail issues. He signals an openness to listening to evidence, independently probing the issues before the Board. Do his comments tack with the Board’s majority? Hard to tell.”