News & Reviews News Wire CSX, NS say Gulf Coast passenger service would ‘devastate’ freight operations (updated)

CSX, NS say Gulf Coast passenger service would ‘devastate’ freight operations (updated)

By David Lassen | November 4, 2021

| Last updated on April 4, 2024

Freight railroads say Amtrak needs to build more than 23 miles of new track; Alabama port filing also opposes passenger proposal

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CSX logoWASHINGTON — CSX Transportation and Norfolk Southern say addition of Amtrak trains along the Gulf Coast would cause a “systematic failure” in their ability to provide freight service, based on traffic modeling, and would “devastate first-mile last-mile service to freight customers in the region,” according to a filing with the Surface Transportation Board.

But while they ask for the STB to deny Amtrak’s application to operate on the route between New Orleans and Mobile, Ala., the railroads say they would withdraw their objection to the service if Norfolk Southern logoAmtrak agrees to pay for 14 capacity improvement projects involving more than 23 miles of new track.

In a separate filing, the Alabama State Port Authority contends the passenger operation will “unreasonably impair freight transportation” at the Port of Mobile and with its railroad, Terminal Railway Alabama State Docks,” and that the board should deny Amtrak’s application for service.

Both documents were filed on Wednesday and made available on the STB website on Thursday.

The 277-page filing of opening evidence for the two railroads is in response to the STB proceeding initiated by Amtrak in March [see “Amtrak asks STB to require CSX, NS to allow Gulf Coast service,” Trains News Wire, March 16, 2021]. At that time, Amtrak noted a lack of progress after more than five years of studies.

In a Thursday statement, CSX said it is not opposed to new passenger service as long as it does not negatively impact freight; that Rail Traffic Controller modeling is standard practice to determine impacts of passenger service; and that “Amtrak abandoned a nearly completed study that would have established this for the proposed new Gulf Coast service.” CSX and NS worked with a third party to complete the study, which CSX says “highlights the unique and challenging features of the New Orleans-to-Mobile corridor, including 150 miles of single-tracked main line, 13 moveable bridges that open on demand to maritime traffic, 160 grade crossings through communities (1.1 crossings per mile average) and four busy ports and freight gateways.” CSX says study identifies the 14 projects that the railroads say should be a minimum condition for Amtrak service.

Amtrak said in a statement that it “will review the filing by CSX with NS – and respond accordingly.” It declined to comment on the port’s filing giving the port’s uncertain status as a party in the proceeding, as noted below.

“The board would be well-justified in simply dismissing this case,” the railroads write in a summary of their filing. “In the event the Board does not dismiss or deny Amtrak’s request, at a minimum, the Board should impose conditions requiring Amtrak to fund, build, and install the additional infrastructure required to prevent a near catastrophic meltdown of freight operations, and to do so in a manner that does not unreasonably interfere with freight operations.”

While the railroads say Amtrak would have to agree to the full set of projects for them to withdraw their objection to the Gulf Coast service, the filing also indicates that at the board’s direction, they have developed a subset of solutions that would allow service to begin before all 14 projects are completed.

Those projects, they say, differ from previous infrastructure proposals because they reflect specifics of Amtrak’s proposed schedule and route. The list of  includes extensions of three sidings, four segments of double-tracking, one new 12,100-foot siding, a 14,000-foot bypass in New Orleans’ Gentilly neighborhood, and 3,200 feet of new track at the Mobile station, for a total of 122,000 feet of new track. Also included would be new power switches at two locations. The document offers no estimate for the cost of these projects.

Port filing seeks construction of flyover

Alabama State Port Authority logo

The port authority’s 54-page filing comes despite an earlier contention by Amtrak that the port and its railroad, Terminal Alabama State Docks, are not parties to the dispute and not entitled to present evidence or argument without permission to do so [see “Amtrak asks STB to compel cooperation …,” Trains News Wire, Oct. 20, 2021].

The port’s filing does not acknowledge that Amtrak contention. It says the passenger service will have an adverse impact because Terminal Railway operations depend on the ability to cross the CSX lines that will host the Amtrak trains.

It says that it would be amenable to working with Amtrak on mitigating the impact of passenger service, but Amtrak has not yet offered to discuss such projects. The port proposes mitigation efforts that would include keeping Amtrak from operating into downtown Mobile, instead service a station west at the proposed Brookley Aeroplex site; construction by Amtrak of a lengthy flyover that would allow the Terminal Railway to move between its Interchange and Riverfront yards without using CSX trackage; alternately and less effectively, a bypass track that would decrease use of the CSX mainline for operations at Riverfront yard, and a project to improve movements between Interchange Yard and the Port of Mobile’s McDuffie Island coal terminal.

Without such mitigation, the port says the Amtrak application must be denied because the governing legislation “does not permit Amtrak to force freight railroads to accept new passenger trains that will unreasonably impair freight service.”

— Updated and revised at 3 p.m. CDT to include CSX statement on filing; updated at 10:55 a.m. on Nov. 5 with Amtrak statement.

28 thoughts on “CSX, NS say Gulf Coast passenger service would ‘devastate’ freight operations (updated)

  1. CSX, NS and the Port of Mobile are not hurting for money, they could easily(and if freight traffic would be impacted so significantly) afford to fund all those improvements themselves, which is exactly what I would impose on them. The reasoning, if they say freight traffic would be so impacted by the addition of TWO(2) passenger trains a day(4 total), just what kind of impact would the addition of say 2 or 3 more freights per day have? Logically speaking, adding 2 or 3 mile+ long freight trains per day would have more impact on existing freight service than a short 4 – 6 car passenger train that travels significantly faster.

  2. It’s so irritating to read about a dispute in which both sides essentially are wrong. (As identified in the comments above.) On the one side, the freight railroads want substantial capital improvements at public expense in exchange for making room for four Amtrak dinkies each day. On the other side, the pro-passenger people think that because of the Interstate Commerce Act of a century and a half ago, Amtrak perpetually gets a deep discount for the use of private rail.

    Now, let me go further into the woods. Who is it that is pro-passenger? No, it’s not Amtrak in its Washington HQ. It’s local people across the country playing with trains. Let’s face it, America is not and never will be England or Netherlands or Germany where you can walk to the station knowing that in fifteen minutes or a half hour there will be a train to take you where you want to go to. In America you wait a day, or two or three days, for a train that there’s about a two percent chance will meet your travel needs.

    So the Gulf Coast will get its train. I’m still wondering how I will get to Nashville or Columbus or Austin or Las Vegas, all of them major and rapidly growing cities. Or how it is that Atlanta, the biggest city in its section of America, has fewer passenger trains in a month than the airport has in an hour or so. Or Detroit which has a single-platform Amtrak station when one of the two concourses in one of the terminals has more than seventy gates.

    1. Charles – As to access, it’s not, legally, just the Interstate Commerce Act, as amended. It is also the original Amtrak legislation relieving the freight roads of the passenger burden, as amended and supplemented over the years. But let’s not regurgitate the old, tired arguments on both sides. Let me just tell you of a recent experience of mine with your glorious world of aviation. Had to make an emergency trip to Florida from upstate NY for family medical issues. No time to take Amtrak, because of ongoing obligations at home. Wore suspenders, as I usually do, to hold my pants up. This apparently told the TSA scanning machine at the airport that I was probably a suicide bomber strapped with explosives. Endured a very intimate patdown as a result, and had my hands checked for explosives and gunshot residue. Was warily released to fly. Was flagged same way on return trip, probably on a watchlist not. On the other hand, I am comforted to know that I can always fly to Nashville, if need be. Excelsior!

    2. George, you should also be comforted by the fact that you had an airline that would get you to Miami in a few hours as opposed to a couple of days. This airline most probably had a better safety record than Amtrak and though you might have been somewhat inconvenienced by the TSA at least you had some assurance that if they patted you down they would also do that to someone who actually did have explosives on them and probably would have found them as well as any gun that the person may have on them and was going to use to shoot up a coach load of people. The airlines offer so much more security as well as speed for only a little bit more comfort. For me getting there in a couple of hours makes up for the slight inconvenience of flying.

    3. Robert: 1. It wasn’t a few hours vs. a couple of days. More like nine hours (check in two hours early, connection in Baltimore to go to west coast of Fla. vs. a day and a half. Ok, score a point for United Airlines. 2. I should be comforted that even though they humiliated me, they would have done the same to a bad guy? What a relief. I should have got naked with joy. 3. A “little bit more (I think you intended to say less) comfort”? A seat so narrow that my elbows hurt slightly less than my rigidly pinned knees, vs a sleeping car room, etc., etc.? 4. Slight inconvenience? If it wasn’t a life or death trip, you can be damn sure I’d have patronized Silver Service. Some folks will buy any piece of Chinese crap at Walmart because it was a few cents less than a domestic product. Where I have the choice, I go domestic. Where I have the choice, I go Pullman. We will agree to disagree. I fantasize about a world like Star Trek, where we could transpose our molecules to anywhere on earth in a few seconds. The trendy folks would wonder how we ever existed when it took, say, five whole hours to fly across the country. It’s all in your head.

  3. “Devastating” sounds extreme! Sounds like they either want Amtrak to “go away” or extort them in to paying for capacity improvements, from which they may derive more benefit than Amtrak? How does freight traffic compare to thirty years ago when Amtrak operated one round trip on the same route and the Sunset Limited? And now this much more for two round trips?

  4. One thing not brought up is that these railroad a received their right of ways at great discounts and part of the deal was that they serve the public.

  5. Amtrak already built a bypass around Gentily yard in New Orleans and in Sibert yard in Mobile years ago for the Sunset service. Train counts on the NO&M Subdivision are nowhere near where they were before Katrina over twenty years ago, Tonnage that was diverted north over other lines including the Meridian Speedway, never came back. And the State Docks Terminal RR makes maybe two trips a day at most over the CSX to get to their facilities at Choctaw. I’ve lived in Mobile all my life and my dad was an engineer Mobile to N.O. for four decades so I’m very familiar with the train operations in this area. I also know that the Docks are getting their marching orders to object to passenger train service from the Republican majority in Montgomery. Pure political crap is all it is. And CSX wants Amtrak to pay for even more improvements on a section of line that was already improved by Amtrak years ago when the Sunset was running.

  6. The railroads hurt their case with all the drama and emotional statements about pending rail meltdowns. Simply state that their complete approval is conditional on needed track improvements and the cost of such as well as state with facts what happens without the rail improvements. The public looks at NS and CSX and sees two companies that sound like they can’t figure out a simple capacity issue. When in fact they have the capacity issue figured out already to accomodate the extra trains. It is all a matter of how you state the case.

  7. My, my. I rode the Sunset Limited from Miami to Los Angles and CSX was still able to exist. Have they lost all the knowledge of how to dispatch trains? As the bard said: “Me thinks the RR’s protest too much.”

  8. It seems that the CSX, NS, and Port Terminal railroad are trying to bluff Amtrak, thus federal government, to pay for improvements they need to improve their congestion problems. A flyover? 23 miles of double tracks? These improvements benefit the freight operators in excess of what is reasonable to accommodate passenger rail service. The railroads are looking handouts for improvements they should mostly pay themselves. It’s another Colton Crossing give away.

  9. The artificial PSR savings are running out the smoke & mirror act can’t continue so they want to make up the difference by overcharging Amtrak to make up for the loss of shippers, that’s rich from two of the worst on time performers for Amtrak trains. I’m sure the RR’s would make ample use of these improvements, if this route is so high priority for the Port that they can’t squeeze 2-4 short Amtrak trains into the mix why haven’t they made these improvements before or why haven’t they hit up the Port for the “needed improvements”. The RR’s basically turn away business because they don’t want to spend any money on improvements that would cut into the stockholder dividends they’d rather give it to truckers. No wonder most of the RR industry is circling the drain.

    1. It’s not the stockholder dividends, it is the executive bonuses based on inflated stock price.

  10. All of the unique aspects of the line that CSX cites existed — and were mitigated — prior to the pre-Katrina level of AMTRAK service.

  11. Amtrak keeps forgetting it’s a tenant. The gov’t has spent too many years shortchanging the Class 1’s. Spend the money if you want the service. Quit trying to get passenger service on private RoW for cheap..

  12. So let me get this straight: The RF&P sub sees at least 10 Amtrak trains a day and CSX doesn’t bat an eye. However, Amtrak wants to run 4 trains (if that) on a new mainline, and CSX whines about “congestion.” What is their problem?

    1. CSX is purring like a content kitten regarding the RF&P sub, as the state of VA is funding a huge portion of the upgrades planned between Richmond and Washington D.C. to accommodate more Amtrak trains.

  13. CSX and NS should feel lucky the federal government doesn’t just seize the right of way outright.

    Amtrak has far more legal authority than they have historically used, and need to flex those muscles more. Class Is exist because the government allows them to, only barely.

    1. The US Constitution flat out says that the Stupid Government “Just Can’t Seize” the property. The fact that you don’t know that is very telling.

  14. The freight railroads are probably embellishing their objections, but they would be inconvenienced by more passenger trains, and that has cost. If Amtrak was gone, few would miss it. I doubt many travelers are clamoring for train service toMobile.

    Why would the freight railroads want more exposure to possible passenger deaths?

  15. What a joke. With today’s computers, satellites and real time these two major railroads can’t accommodate a scheduled, fast three or four car train that will fit into any siding?! Come on…….In recent years, NS and CSX have ran away enough freight traffic to easily run this and other passenger trains along their networks.

  16. I would like to see some train counts for the railroads through the affected area. It seems doubtful to me that one little passenger train a day each way could cause such an impact, even if it became two a day each way.

    1. Mark just in case you missed it… This is a largely single track route. It’s the speed of passenger trains that eat track capacity.

  17. The objections by CSX and NS seem reasonable due to the fact that Amtrak does not pay sufficient fees to cover the cost of operating their trains. Maybe if they paid the true cost of operations the two railroads might be more amenable to allowing service.

  18. I’m glad CSX, NS and TASD are fighting this hard. If there is a real need for these passenger trains, I haven’t seen it.

  19. The RRs say that that “Those projects, they say, differ from previous infrastructure proposals because they reflect specifics of Amtrak’s proposed schedule and route.”

    Are there changes to the schedule and/or route that would reduce the RR’s objections and infrastructure demands?

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