WASHINGTON — Amtrak has asked the Surface Transportation to take action on two fronts on its pending request for a ruling enabling it to start passenger service between New Orleans and Mobile, Ala. — requesting that the board order CSX and Norfolk Southern to provide access to their properties to prepare for the service, and that it clarify the status of the Alabama State Port Authority regarding the port’s desire to participate in the proceeding.
In a Wednesday filing, Amtrak said it was requesting the interim order for access because “in certain areas, Amtrak is no longer receiving the access to CSX’s rail lines that Amtrak seeks and CSX is no longer working with Amtrak to reach a suitable accommodation.”
Specifically, Amtrak says, CSX is refusing Amtrak’s request to survey the freight railroad’s Choctaw Yard as a possible site for a temporary layover track for Gulf Coast trains. The yard was used for this purpose during two earlier iterations of service on the route, but Amtrak says the track it used previously was removed by CSX in 2019, while Amtrak and the freight railroad were negotiating over the return of Amtrak service. “CSX is now refusing Amtrak’s request to cooperate on a survey of the site for Amtrak to evaluate the potential restoration of the track or determine other optiosn for an interim layover track,” according to the filing.
Amtrak noted it had requested an interim order for access as part of its original filing seeking a ruling that would allow it to launch service on that route [see “Amtrak asks STB to require CSX, NS to allow Gulf Coast service,” Trains News Wire, March 16, 2021]. At the time, the STB declined to issue such an order, noting that Amtrak had received the access it sought and that the parties were “working together to reach a suitable accommodation.”
In its new filing, Amtrak says it “hopes that it will not have to petition the board again to intervene in what should be a cooperative process among the parties.”
In a separate filing, Amtrak asked the board to clarify that the port and its railroad, Terminal Railway Alabama State Docks, are not parties to the Amtrak-CSX-Norfolk Southern dispute and are not entitled to present evidence or an argument without requesting and receiving permission to do so.
The filing notes that the Port filed a letter on Oct. 8 notifying the board of its “intent to present evidence and argument.” But Amtrak argues that the port does not fit the regulatory definition of a party to the proceeding, and has not sought or been granted such status, or to be granted amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) status as an organization with a strong interest in the matter. Amtrak therefore asks that the port not be allowed to further participate without seeking and receiving such status.
The Amtrak plan has met opposition from some Alabama officials, including Gov. Kay Ivie, because of concerns Amtrak service could interfere with traffic to the Port of Mobile. The port authority’s attorney, in that Oct. 8 filing, wrote that the port “is gravely concerned that Amtrak’s proposal would severely imped the flow of railroad freight traffic moving within, to, and from the Port of Mobile,” adversely affecting Mobile’s ability to compete with other ports and “compromising the service reliability of the various railroad carriers” that service the port.
Notably, the Choctaw Yard site Amtrak wishes to use is west of the Mobile station site, which would reduce potential interference with the port, which is east of the station.