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Home / News & Reviews / News Wire / STB grants Amtrak access to NS, CSX data, orders mediation

STB grants Amtrak access to NS, CSX data, orders mediation

By Bob Johnston | June 11, 2022

Deadline for supplemental evidence pushed back; mediation will be concurrent with hearings

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Passenger station with wooden platform
Passenger station with wooden platform
The station in Pascagoula, Miss., shown on June 7, 2021, would be one of the stops for Amtrak’s proposed Gulf Coast service. Amtrak is working on plans to replace the wooden platform deck and make it accessible for passengers with disabilities. In the distance, a Misssissippi Export Railroad local switches cars to be interchanged with CSX. (Bob Johnston)

WASHINGTON — The Surface Transportation Board will allow a limited number of Amtrak personnel access to raw train data used by CSX Transportation and Norfolk Southern so the passenger operator can run its own Rail Traffic Controller capacity modeling study.

In a decision issued Friday, the STB also ordered board-sponsored mediation to address the differences between Amtrak, CSX, NS, and the Port of Mobile.

As a result of the ruling on the data, submission of supplemental evidence by all parties, a precursor to resuming the long-running hearings on Amtrak’s effort to launch passenger service between New Orleans and Mobile, Ala., was pushed back a month, from June 13 to July 13, 2022.

Amtrak had opposed mediation, while the railroads had asked for the evidentiary hearing process be put on hold while it took place [see “CSX, NS again ask for mediation …,” Trains News Wire, May 26, 2022]. The passenger operator, meanwhile, sought to have the STB compel the railroads to release system data covering routes far removed from New Orleans-Mobile [see “CSX, NS call Amtrak request …,” News Wire, June 1, 2022]. Sensing irreconcilable differences on the exchange of information, the board took a middle ground by ordering a 30-day mediation period, but “will not hold the underlying proceeding in abeyance during the pendency of the mediation.”

Blue station sign with white lettering of train information
A Pascagoula station sign, dating from the 1980s when a single daily New Orleans-Mobile round trip first operated, awaits new information. (Bob Johnston)

In the most recent of 11 days of hearings on the Gulf Coast case, STB Chairman Martin Oberman and other board members repeatedly expressed frustration about information received from both camps. They say they have not received the information needed to help them decide whether adding two Amtrak round trips between New Orleans and Mobile would “unreasonably impair” CSX, NS, and Port of Mobile rail operations — the regulatory standard which would prevent the start of passenger service [see “Oberman: Gulf Coast litigants still need to fill in the blanks,” News Wire, May 13, 2022]. The most glaring criticism: The railroads never modeled operational changes such as shortening trains to fit existing passing sidings.

CSX and NS attorneys had accused Amtrak of not doing its own RTC modeling and not waiting for a 2020 modeling study to be completed more than a year after it was begun, but Amtrak charged it was only granted belated access to the 2019 data inputs in August 2021, not collaboratively during the previous year. Friday’s STB order allows Amtrak modelers to revisit the same data and counter some of the built-in assumptions that led to the host railroads’ demand for more than $500 million of infrastructure improvements.

In statements to Trains News Wire, Amtrak says it “appreciates the Board’s continued efforts to instill transparency into this process and will work to meet the board’s new deadline. We will also work with the mediator the Board appoints and continue our preparations for beginning this service along the Gulf Coast as soon as possible.”

Although Norfolk Southern had no immediate comment, CSX says it “appreciates the STB’s decision to order Board-sponsored mediation and looks forward to working with the appointed mediator and all parties towards a reasonable and amicable solution.”

12 thoughts on “STB grants Amtrak access to NS, CSX data, orders mediation

  1. I suspect that the RR’s will not fully disclose all the data Amtrak needs to model the route and thereby delay the mediation as they have been doing. I hope I am wrong but based on past efforts to thwart Amtrak from gaining access to this route, it’s what I expect.

  2. As Amtrak is so keen on demanding the STB to require CSX and NS to evidence transparency with their proprietary data, when does Amtrak get hit itself with the lid of this “Pandora’s Box?” For example:

    1) Given the acknowledged longer travel time required by Amtrak vs. bus between Mobile-New Orleans, will Amtrak’s proposed schedule serve the important connection purpose to meet arrivals and departures of the City of New Orleans, The Crescent, and the Sunset Limited; will the New Orleans-Baton Rouge trains also be scheduled to connect with arriving and departing trains to Mobile? If not, Amtrak needs to embrace real transparency to prove its infamous ridership projections are not just puff.
    2) When GM claimed “poverty” after WWII, UAW president Walter Reuther demanded GM to open its books to prove why it could not increase wages. How much longer will Congress, Sec of Transportation, and FRA tolerate the total lack of transparency by Amtrak’s “smoke & mirrors” approach to its unique interpretation of “fake” data analytics to bury long distance routes and state-supported corridors?
    How does Amtrak get away with such a radical abuse of cost allocation to hide the extreme costs of the NEC? When does the curtain get pulled back to evidence the real transparency of cost allocation, including increased contribution to revenue of long distance to state corridor/NEC trains; how relegation of Superliner coaches to LOSSAN has deprived long distance routes of the necessary consist build-up to serve demand and increase revenues?

    Apparently, with Senator Schumer (NY) in the pocket of Board Chair Coscia, and Coscia remains gratuitously in Schumer’s pocket to pursue their mutual interests, any thought of pursuing a real transparency of Amtrak remains in the fog. Perhaps CSX /NS understand these dynamics better than the STB appreciates?

    1. Mr.Singer: We already have bus service between Mobile and New Orleans. Right now my wife and I drive our own car. It usually takes 2.5 hours Mobile to New Orleans depending on traffic. I’d definitely not ride a bus for various reasons. Flying is out unless you have your own plane or want to go though Atlanta or Charlotte and take a day or maybe two. So what’s wrong with another option. I’m personally tired of paying the same federal taxes as my friends in the northeast but not getting the same travel choices or benefits. It’s time the citizens of the Gulf Coast had access to passenger rail.

      1. Mr. Thompson: I agree the Gulf Coast should have passenger service in some form if it can be clearly demonstrated that demand exists. And I accept the word of folks who live in and know the region that demand in fact does exist. But why is Amtrak doing this now? Why did they not in all the years that have passed since CSX restored the line to service post-Katrina seek to either restore the Sunset or any other service along the route? The fact that they didn’t speaks volumes and makes this effort, at this time, suspect. So here’s my take, rolling the clock back to before the STB blessed CSX+PAR: Gardner and Coscia knew CSX wanted PAR real bad. And they knew MassDOT was objecting. But Gardner’s Connect US 2035 “vision” includes two round trips ALB-BOS. And Amtrak and MassDOT knew CSX had pledged, in a filing to the STB, to work with the latter for expansion of passenger rail west of Fitchburg and Worcester in order to get MassDOT to drop its objection to CSX’s purchase. So if Amtrak had gone for the ALB-BOS part of Connect, they would have been plowing fertile ground; They could have earned CSX’s good will by encouraging MassDOT to get on board with CSX+PAR. It would have been a win-win for everyone. But instead Amtrak chose to go to the Gulf because they knew it would stir up a hornet’s nest. I think Gardner and Coscia want the STB to rule against them and the message that will send for implementing any other service in Connect that requires access to the freight railroads. They want Connect to fail so they can retreat to their 450 mile WAS-BOS playpen and put the blame on the freight railroads for making that their only option.

    2. Thank you, Mr. Singer for your excellent post. Thank you for suggesting here and in your post in response to the the Newswire article citing the Biden administration’s nominations for a reconstituted Amtrak Board, that there is an unholy alliance between Sen. Schumer and NEC-centric Anthony Coscia. Makes it all the more understandable how Coscia got the Biden administration’s nomination to not only stay on the Board but also to retain him in the chairman position.

  3. The saga continues. Maybe the STB should force CSX to run shorter trains until some existing sidings are lengthened?

  4. So Oberman partially folded…here he had his chance to exert the STB’s authority over the U.S. railroads…but instead decided for a lazy middle ground. Disappointing in my view, it’s time someone tells the railroads it’s no longer status quo, time to put up or shut up.

  5. If Amtrak is successful in implementing NO to Mobile service, passengers should take several books or a tablet with them. Given Amtrak’s inability to run on time, especially outside of the NEC, no one should plan to arrive on time.

    Last year I took the Texas Eagle from Temple, TX to Dallas and back four times. Well, back is not exactly correct. No 21 was four or more hours late on three of the return trips, so I walked over to the Greyhound terminal and caught the bus back to Temple. Got me there right on time!

    With respect to Amtrak’s coast allocation processes, unless you have access to the company’s books, you don’t have any idea how it allocates costs.

  6. I made some trips to Texas recently and became interested in your comment about Greyhound. Can you please explain how in the world you took a Greyhound bus from Dallas to Temple and got there on time? Greyhound doesn’t even serve Temple, Texas today. Did it last year? Just a simple question.

    Actually, Greyhound runs to very few cities with very few frequencies today. It is a shell of its former self.

  7. The bus from Dallas to Temple was Greyhound from Dallas to Waco and Trailways – local operator – from Waco to Temple.

    No. 21 is scheduled into Dallas at 11;30 am. It departs at 11:50 am and is due in Temple at 4:43 pm. The bus was scheduled to depart Dallas at 1:30 pm and arrive in Temple at 4:45 pm. When I realized No 21 was four hours late, I walked over to the Greyhound terminal and caught the bus. East Peasy!

    Earlier this year the operator of the Trailways connection, which is located in Killeen, TX, dropped the Waco to Temple to Killeen connection. The reason, according to a knowledgeable acquaintance, was because the owner of the bus station in Temple raised the rent too high, and the operator dropped the service. The operator still provides the thruway connection from Temple to Killeen.

    FlixBus has stepped into the picture. It is running between Temple, Waco, and Dallas. It leaves Temple at 10:35 am and arrives in Big D at 12:45 pm. It is takes 2 hours, 10 minutes compared to 3 hours, 55 minutes for Amtrak.

    Greyhound has eight daily schedules each way between Austin and Dallas, although two of them are red eyes. It has five daily schedules between Waco and Dallas. Austin is the closest point for me if I want to take the bus or have a bus option if Amtrak is running late.

    Speaking of late, as of now No. 21 is estimating Fort Worth 1 hour, 12 minutes late. No. 22, not to be outdone, is estimating Fort Worth 1 hour, 54 minutes late. No. 22 is late because of the late arriving through cars off of No. 2.

    The station agent in Austin, who frequently fills in at Temple, told me recently not to take No. 22 on the days the through cars from No. 2 are handed off to No. 22. No. 2 is notoriously late into San Antonio.

    1. Thanks for the info. I was just trying to make the point that inter-city bus service continues to decline and multiple frequencies are becoming quite rare.

      Even if you go by FlixBus between Dallas and Temple, I believe you’ll find that there is no service on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Also, you’ll have a 4-mile hike (or cab or Uber ride) to the downtown bus stop, but you’ll have plenty of time since the bus to Temple doesn’t leave until 4:45 p.m. Of course, Greyhound to Waco (40 miles to Temple) or Austin (70 miles to Temple) is always a possibility. Someone would have to pick you up or another cab or Uber ride, though, would be required. I might just want to stick with Amtrak.

      I didn’t mean to belabor the issue, but I guess I just did. Sorry.

  8. I live in Georgetown. It is approximately 37 miles to the Amtrak Station in Temple; 38 miles to Austin. Assuming I want a back-up option for a late running No. 21, Austin would be the better bet. It has a lot more bus schedules.

    One of the nice things about Temple is the Amtrak station and former bus station were across the street from each other. So, when I returned by bus, I could simply walk across the street to the Amtrak car park.

    FlixBus is a curbside bus service. It’s stop is about a mile or so from Amtrak’s Temple station. I am in good shape, especially for someone 83, so walking a mile or so would not be a problem unless it was pouring cats and dogs. You are correct, FlixBus only runs five days a week.

    It is four miles from Amtrak’s Austin station to the Greyhound bus station. Assuming I parked at the Austin station, I would have to catch a cab if I returned to Austin on Greyhound.

    I am a train buff. I ride the train from Temple to Dallas because I like to ride trains. But the better commercial option is the bus. The service is more frequent and dependable.

    If one has a hankering for luxury bus service, Vonlane has six to eight daily schedules between Austin and Dallas. The one way fare is $114, which is pricy compared to Amtrak and Greyhound, but it is a great ride.

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