Amtrak Takes CSX TO STB To Force New Passenger Service

Does Delayed New Orleans-Mobile Service Suggest Problems With Passenger Trains After CSX Takes Over Pan-Am?

After 5 years of discussions, Amtrak asked the Surface Transportation Board to Intervene with CSX and Norfolk Southern to force revived New Orleans – Mobile service to proceed.

A 2017 letter to the Federal Railroad Administration from the Southern Rail Commission says that the actions of CSX “demonstrate what can only be understood as an unwillingness to negotiate in good faith and an opposition to bringing back passenger rail service to communities along the Gulf Coast.”

Several northeast states have their own plans for additional Amtrak trains on CSX or lines that CSX will control if the Pan-Am sale is approved. Does this dispute signify upcoming trouble for these efforts?

CSX blames Amtrak, saying “Amtrak elected to abandon the long-standing practice of completing an impact study when the introduction of new passenger service is proposed.” But Amtrak blames CSX for torpedoing that study, which it says was initiated a year ago and would have concluded 8 months ago without CSX intransigence.

Amtrak has the legal right to operate over most freight railroads with preference over freight trains. Freight railroads have the right to ask for capacity improvements to allow freight to flow without major disruption.

The effort to expand Amtrak service to Mobile comes with $66 million of allocated funds for track capacity improvements as a result of an FRA funded and approved study.

The allegations of intentional delay and non-cooperation echo the situation in planning the Boston-Portland Amtrak Downeaster service 25 years ago.

The Northern New England Passenger Authority board recently approved moving forward with a sixth Portland – Boston round trip and an extension of service north toward Bangor is under consideration, both operating on tracks now operated by Pan-Am which CSX proposes to purchase.

In New York State a draft environmental impact study of faster more frequent service west of Albany to Buffalo has been delayed in its release because of difficulties between sponsor New York State and CSX.

In striking contrast with the situation in gulf region, the state of Virginia has successfully worked with CSX to expand rail service over time including buying “slots” guaranteeing the ability to schedule a train at a certain time and proceeding to a $3.7 billion line sale to the state of Virginia. It appears that Virginia has secured CSX cooperation by bringing substantial cash to the table (although much of that is federal funding).

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Associate Editor; Consultant for Rail Planning & Development
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Christopher has 15 years of railroad experience, starting as a Conductor on Cape Cod and 15 years of public policy advocacy and outreach work.  He is an expert on passenger rail economics, freight shippers, operations planning and development.   Christopher is the Executive Director of Vermont Rail Action Network, communicating the vision of better trains.  Previous clients have included All-Earth Rail, Champ P3, MBTA, Metro-North, Amtrak, Portland Tri-Met.