CSX and Norfolk Southern (NS) are calling on the Surface Transportation Board (STB) to deny “as moot” Amtrak’s renewed request for an interim order requiring the Class I railroads to provide track access between New Orleans and Mobile so Amtrak can prepare for proposed Gulf Coast service.
The host freight railroads’ July 9 filing, which also reiterated the need for a capacity study (download below), is in response to Amtrak’s, which was submitted July 6.
CSX and NS noted that “[o]n May 10, 2021, Amtrak requested access to CSXT and NS facilities to ‘perform various safety, operations, and stations infrastructure assessments along the route’ and stated that ‘an interim order may not be necessary’ if CSXT and NS provided the requested access.”
“CSXT agreed to the specific access requests submitted by Amtrak on June 16, 2021, and NS explained that Amtrak’s existing access to its lines was sufficient to accomplish the preparatory work,” the Class I railroads wrote. “Amtrak’s renewed request for an interim order is thus moot as requesting nothing Amtrak does not already have.”
Amtrak also reported in its July 6 filing that CSX and NS had responded to its access request. It told STB: “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.”
Additionally, Amtrak told STB 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. Amtrak also “respectfully seeks expedited treatment of the pending motion to dismiss and motions to strike.”
CSX and NS point out in their July 9 filing, however, that “a capacity study continues to be as necessary as it always has been. It is needed to determine what infrastructure is required to support adding passenger trains to the Gulf Coast corridor without unreasonably degrading freight service. Numerous freight stakeholders in Alabama have voiced their opposition to the ‘leap before you look’ request by Amtrak, where passenger trains are forced onto the track without the benefit of the longstanding practice of a cooperative Amtrak-freight rail capacity study that has been requested by CSXT and NS. CSXT and NS are not opposed to Amtrak’s desire to bring new passenger service to the Gulf Coast, but it should be done the right way. CSXT gave Amtrak the limited access it requested because that is the way these kinds of access initiatives are handled—giving Amtrak access to its stations to study whatever improvement[s] are needed at the stations and conducting a capacity study to study improvements needed to the line of road. But it is also a standard, industry norm to study the capacity of the line before introducing new passenger service. Freight rail customers deserve no less.
“It thus remains CSXT’s and NS’s position that Amtrak should be held to its commitment to permit CSXT and NS (at our expense) to complete the independent HDR study to determine what additional infrastructure is needed. Moreover, an operations modeling study will greatly assist the Board in its assessment of the environmental impacts of Amtrak’s Application. CSXT and NS continue to urge the Board to dismiss the remainder of Amtrak’s Application without prejudice—or hold the Application in abeyance—until such time as Amtrak cooperates with CSXT and NS in completing an operations modeling study.”
For more on the study, from Amtrak’s point of view, see Railway Age Editor-in-Chief William C. Vantuono’s April report: “Amtrak STB Petition Cites CSX, NS ‘Unwillingness to Engage Meaningfully.’”