PAR Sale: The Sound of Silence


CSX-PAR breakup

ANRP has had our ear to the rail for twelve weeks since breaking the news that Pan Am would sell itself to CSX. Nobody expected the STB filing to be simple, what with so many moving parts and unavoidable challenges. But this train should have arrived by now, leaving us to wonder if it’s really just hung up, or off the tracks.

We have worked hard to prepare our readership for the event that will transform New England railroading and affect the entire region. We’ve tested the skepticism, girded against the giddiness, exploded the rumors, and gathered scraps of real information until they presented a story that could hold water.

We’ve identified the buyer, figured out the key piece to the puzzle, recognized NS’s veto power, offered advice to CSX, reported PAR’s quick Christmas fix on a Hoosac hiccup and their recent winter blitz to speed up the line, and detailed NS’s discomfort, etc.

But every morning we’ve been waking up to WSTB playing any song except the one we’ve requested, and in the past few days it’s come to feel like they never will. On 18.January, qualified sources confirmed that NS was on a very different track from CSX as to who should operate the Patriot Corridor. The 21.January CSX Q4 2020 Earnings Call closed without a peep about PAR (but plenty about the restructured STB’s wayward tendencies). On 29.January, PAR’s BLET membership ratified a pat three-year deal (rather than say, a one-year agreement that protects current jobs in the new company, but soon awards Class I benefits).

As explained in PAS: KNOW WHEN TO HOLD ‘EM, KNOW WHEN TO FOLD ‘EM (ANRP 04.Aug.2020), and CSX/MADOT: Will B&A Shake Out of PAR to Become East-West Passenger Corridor? (ANRP 11.Nov.2020), the prospective sale has all along hinged on three big assumptions: That NS would cooperate in order to gain a Corridor partner with a mutual interest in sharing a well-maintained, objectively-operated mainline, that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts would acquire CSX’s B&A line for the long-dreamed-of East-West Corridor, a cross-state commuter rail line, and that regulators would support a single New England mainline that would save costs and not harm competition.

At this point, there is little corroborating evidence for or against any of these assumptions. But with NS determined to name the Patriot Corridor operator (and already enjoying higher track speeds), and with MassDOT in “save” rather than “spend” mode, and with an STB oriented more toward public than private concerns, circumstances seem to have turned against all three.

All PSA’s come with an expiration date, and to-day is the 89th since the agreement was signed (06.Nov.2020, according to our math – Ed.). It seems like the CSX-PAR train is being held out of the terminal. Is it about to be abolished?