Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak corridor service’

Amtrak Takes Gulf Coast Service Dispute to STB

March 19, 2021

Amtrak wants the U.S. Surface Transportation Board to break a stalemate it has with CSX and Norfolk Southern over the implementation of new rail passenger service between New Orleans and Mobile, Alabama.

The passenger carrier believes an STB order is needed to get the two host railroads to cooperate on hosting a proposed new service.

“Under STB procedures, CSX and NS will be required to provide Amtrak access to their railroads for this service or prove to the public why they cannot successfully host these trains in accordance with the law,” Amtrak said in a statement.

The passenger carrier contends that it has a legal right to use this route and that there is sufficient capacity to host these trains.

The Amtrak statement noted that $66 million in targeted improvements to support the new intercity passenger rail service along the line awaits action of the host railroads.

Funding for the service has been approved by the Federal Railroad Administration, Amtrak and state and local governments in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

Industry observers say Amtrak appears to be bringing a test case to determine how the STB will handle other intercity passenger rail proposals.

Amtrak has been talking about seeking Congressional approval to fund a series of corridor services around the country although a formal proposal has yet to be made.

The latest STB filing seeks expedited consideration. Amtrak wants to begin the Mobile service on or about Jan. 1, 2022.

Amtrak does not have contracts with CSX or NS to host the Mobile service.

Last year the passenger carrier was participating in a modeling study to determine how rail passenger service would affect the freight operations of the host railroads.

However, Amtrak’s contract to use the modeling program expired before the study was completed.

Instead, Amtrak has asked CSX and NS to provide a list of infrastructure improvements needed to get the service started by 2022.

The Gulf Coast service has been in the talking and negotiating stages for the past five years.

Amtrak last served the region in August 2005 with its tri-weekly Sunset Limited. That service was suspended after Hurricane Katrina damaged stations and tracks used by Nos. 1 and 2.

NS issued a statement noting it is in litigation over the service and reiterated a previous statement it made in February saying, “There is an established process for introducing new passenger rail service on freight rail lines recognized by both the freight and passenger railroad industries.

“It involves identifying, through a data-driven study, what infrastructure is necessary to ensure that the new passenger service is transparent to freight operations and doesn’t negatively impact the freight rail customers.

“The public entities sponsoring the service finance the infrastructure construction prior passenger service being introduced. It is a well-instituted process, one that history has shown to work. Norfolk Southern welcomes the prospect that this process will be revived and completed in the proposed Mobile-New Orleans service.”

CSX issued a similar statement noting the matter is before the STB.

The CSX statement also said,  “Amtrak elected to abandon the long-standing practice of completing an impact study when the introduction of new passenger service is proposed.”

Amtrak’s filing with the STB said it began working with the host railroads, the FRA and the Southern Rail Commission in 2015 on restoring Gulf Coast service.

An FRA study released in July 2017 by the agency’s Gulf Coast Working Group outlined needed improvements to the service.

The SRC has since landed $33 million in federal grants to help pay for those improvements.

CSX, NS Want Capacity Study Completed on Gulf Coast Service

March 14, 2021

In letters sent to the Alabama State Port Authority, CSX and Norfolk Southern have outlined their objections to Amtrak’s stated intent to begin service in 2022 between New Orleans and Mobile, Alabama.

CSX Assistant Vice President of Passenger Operations Andy Daly said a modeling study of how Amtrak operations would affect CSX freight service needs to be completed before the Class 1 railroad will discuss infrastructure needs for passenger service.

His letter does not address the question of whether CSX would be willing to talk with Amtrak without completion of the modeling studies.

Daly said in his letter that three separate modeling studies have been conducted since 2016, “but none have modeled this new twice-daily roundtrip between New Orleans and Mobile.”

Those studies anticipated two daily roundtrips between New Orleans and Mobile with one of them continuing eastward to Orlando, Florida.

NS would host just five miles of the 140-mile route but also insisted that the traffic modeling study be completed.

The study in question uses the Rail Traffic Controller software.

During a recently meeting of the Southern Rail Commission, Amtrak Senior Director of Host Railroads Jim Blair said the carrier was working on the RTC study but encountered numerous delays that have prevented the study from being completed last year as expected.

He said the study was supposed to take seven months “but into December [2020] we weren’t progressing. Then in January, the consultant came back to us and said that much of the work that had been done was not usable because there was a modification to the software.

“That was actually implemented in February of this year, and that made much of the prior work unusable.”

Blair said Amtrak management felt that despite spending money and effort it wasn’t getting any closer to being able to launch the Mobile service and the agreement to use the RTC program then expired.

Alternatively, Amtrak decided to seek the views of CSX and NS management as to what it would take to enable the service to begin in 2022.

The Alabama port authority has long opposed the Amtrak service for fear that it will disrupt rail service at the port of Mobile. It, too, has said it wants the RTC study to be completed.

Another unresolved issue is the location of a permanent Mobile station. One proposal has called for having the trains serve a location at Brookley Airport rather than in downtown Mobile.

In the meantime, Amtrak has said it is seeking Federal Railroad Administration approval to begin spending its own money on rebuilding station facilities between New Orleans and Mobile.

In Mobile that would include rehabilitating the station downtown once used by Amtrak’s Sunset Limited when it served the city.

The Sunset Limited ceased operating east of New Orleans in August in the wake of damage to the route and stations facilities caused by Hurricane Katrina.

Some observers believe that the unresolved issues over the Mobile route will wind up before the U.S. Surface Transportation Board.

STB Chairman Martin Oberman, speking to a Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center webinar, said that if a freight railroad denies Amtrak access to their tracks, federal law “make[s] it clear we have the power to order such access and the terms of it.”

Amtrak Trying to Pressure Host Railroads on Gulf Coast Service

March 2, 2021

Amtrak is trying to pressure two host railroads by announcing its plans to begin service in 2022 on the New Orleans-Mobile, Alabama, route.

In a statement, Amtrak said it continues to discuss with CSX and Norfolk Southern what infrastructure improvements are needed before the service can begin.

The service is expected to operate twice daily over a portion of the route once used by the Sunset Limited until August 2005.

Most funding for the service is already approved and includes state and federal money.

News reports indicate that Amtrak made the announcement even though a traffic study of the route is incomplete.

That study, which Amtrak is paying for, will use a computer simulation program to study how passengers operations might affect freight operations on the route.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the study should have taken just seven months but remains far from complete more than a year after it began.

He told Trains magazine that discussions between Amtrak and the host railroads have been going on for five years with no agreement near.

Amtrak’s announcement said the passenger carrier has “again asked the freight railroads where they believe there are more issues. We safely and successfully operate together elsewhere in the United States, with dependable freight service coexisting with reliable and relevant Amtrak service. That’s what the Gulf Coast deserves, too.”

The Southern Rail Commission has been pushing for a resumption of Amtrak service to the Gulf Coast between New Orleans and Jacksonville, Florida, for several years.

CSX has said that the traffic study needs to be completed before it will have any further discussion about hosting the Amtrak service.

One sticking point is how Amtrak operations might affect rail traffic at the Port of Mobile.

In its own statement, CSX said it has “prioritized this Amtrak Gulf Coast study, treating each step as expeditiously as possible.”

The statement said CSX wants to ensure that the model is compliant with federal law.

“Not only are we committed to seeing its completion, but the STB [U.S. Surface Transportation Board] has a statutory obligation to determine if a new passenger service unreasonably interferes with freight operations. It is critical that this study and the full infrastructure impact assessment is completed.”

An analysis posted on the Trains website concludes that the CSX statement illustrates why the development of the route has taken so long and why Amtrak has lost patience with the process: The host railroads, particularly CSX, keep changing the parameters.

Trains said none of the three parties was willing to reveal any details of the capacity study, including preliminary findings, specific infrastructure change requests, or the timeline of negotiations.

Nonetheless, a 2017 Federal Railroad Administration report by the Gulf Coast Working Group set forth a list of $66 million of improvements that were needed to resume service between New Orleans and Mobile.

These included a house track at the Mobile station that would enable trains to get off the mainline; a signaled passing track around CSX’s Gentilly Yard in New Orleans; a second main track extension to accommodate long freight trains at Bay St. Louis, Mississppi; an automated junction in Gulfport, Mississippi; and yard capacity expansion at Pascagoula, Mississippi.

The states of Louisiana and Mississippi have set aside capital funds and Mississippi has agreed to help provide operating support.

But Alabama has not committed any funding and Gov. Kay Ivey has expressed opposition to the service, citing how it might disrupt freight access to the Port of Mobile.

The Mobile City County has agreed to spend more than $3 million over three years toward infrastructure improvements to get the Amtrak service started.

Amtrak has tentatively named the New Orleans-Mobile trains Gulf Coast Service and said they would serve four intermediate stations, all in Mississippi: Bay St. Louis, Gulfport, Biloxi and Pascagoula.

The trains would use NS tracks for a short distance within New Orleans.

Magliari said that Amtrak safely and successfully coexists on other rail lines. “That’s what the Gulf Coast deserves, too,” he said.

A story posted on the Railway Age website speculated that the Port of Mobile may have leaked information to local news media over concerns that the new passenger service might hinder CSX freight service.

The Railway Age article said the Gulf Coast service may end up becoming a test case for how the STB will handles future intercity passenger rail proposals involving Amtrak, state entities and host freight railroads when the parties are unable to reach an agreement to allow new or expanded service.

For its part, an NS spokesman said his company’s position is similar to that of CSX.

“There is an established process for introducing new passenger rail service on freight rail lines recognized by both the freight and passenger railroad industries,” said Jeff DeGraff.

“It involves identifying, through a data-driven study, what infrastructure is necessary to ensure that the new passenger service is transparent to freight operations and doesn’t negatively impact the freight rail customers.”

DeGraff said NS welcomes the prospect that this process will be revived and completed in the proposed Mobile-New Orleans service.

Wiley Blankenship, chairman of the SRC, told Railway Age his agency remains “cautiously optimistic about Amtrak’s intention to start running trains again.”

He acknowledged that additional work needs to be done to address the concerns of the Port of Mobile before service can start.

SRC has worked for years to land public funding for Gulf Coast service including federal and state grants.

One federal grant will help pay for the operating costs of the service in its first three years.

Magliari told an Alabama news outlet that “instead of postponing the publicly sought and desired new Amtrak service for an indefinite period, we have notified the railroads that we believe we can start the service. There is money set aside for the capital improvements. There is money granted for the operating costs.”

Amtrak will provide more details about the proposed Gulf Coast service during a March 5 SRC meeting.

Amtrak Trying to Drum Up Support for Corridor Service Plan

February 14, 2021

Although it has yet to release its proposal, Amtrak has been talking with state and local officials about its ideas for creating a network of corridor services.

The passenger carrier has in those meetings described it as a long-range plan that it has billed as The Amtrak System 2035.

Among the Amtrak officials who have been touring the country is Ray Lang, the carrier’s senior director for national state relations.

Lang has described the plan as a five-year $25 billion proposal in which Amtrak would pay capital and operating costs upfront but with funding of operations shifting to state and local governments over a five-year period.

He has said during his presentation that the “price of admission for new corridor service has gotten to be really, really expensive.”

Therefore Amtrak wants to use federal money to cover those costs.

Amtrak’s vision is connecting urban centers that are hundreds of miles apart with frequent train service. 

Most of the routes Amtrak is looking to create are in the South and West, although recent news reports have indicated that Amtrak has talked with Ohio officials about creating new corridor service in the Buckeye State.

Ohio is currently served by three Amtrak routes and has no corridor service.

Some of the service to Ohio would involve extending existing corridor-oriented routes into the state, including the Empire Corridor that now operates between New York and Niagara Falls, New York, via Buffalo.

The idea is to extend some Empire Service trains to Cleveland and Detroit.

In their talks with Ohio officials, Amtrak has floated the idea of developing a corridor between Cleveland and Cincinnati via Columbus and Dayton.

Other possible corridors include New York City to Scranton, Pennsylvania, and possibly north to Binghamton, New York.

The Vermonter, which now terminates at St. Albans, Vermont, would be extended to Montreal and the Ethan Allen Express, which now terminates at Rutland, Vermont, would be extended north to Burlington, Vermont.

In the South, Amtrak has proposed corridors connecting Atlanta with Chattanooga and Nashville in Tennessee, with Charlotte, North Carolina; and with the Florida cities of Jacksonville, Orlando, Tampa and Miami

In the West, corridors would link Los Angeles with Las Vegas, Phoenix and Tucson; and Denver with communities along the front range of the Rocky Mountains.

Additional service would be added along the route of the Coast Starlight, which links Seattle and Los Angeles, although Amtrak is not necessarily talking about one more trains being added to serve the length of that route.

In his presentations, Lang has said individual states “would have the ability to do what they want.”

He also indicated that some proposed routes are likely to have higher priority to get done sooner than others. That includes the Atlanta-Nashville route and service along the front range of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado.

Amtrak’s plan faces numerous challenges and any of them could thwart corridor development.

First and probably foremost is that Congress must approve the funding for the plan.

Other challenges include resistance from the freight railroads that would host these trains and the reluctance of state transportation officials to agree to continue paying the operating costs of corridor services once they are established.

When Ohio was awarded a grant in 2009 to fund establishment of Cleveland-Cincinnati service, some Ohio legislators objected to the state having to commit to funding the operating costs of the route.

It is far from certain that all of the states that would benefit from Amtrak’s new services are on board with taking over funding of them.

There is a risk that state legislatures would decline to provide funding for a corridor service after Amtrak paid to establish.

More Hope Than Plan at This Point

February 3, 2021

News outlets in Ohio over the past few of days have reported stories about Amtrak service expansion plans in the state.

The intercity passenger carrier has been reported to be planning five new corridor services including Cleveland-Cincinnati via Columbus and Dayton; Chicago-Cincinnati via Indianapolis; Cleveland-Detroit (Pontiac) via Toledo; Cleveland-New York via Buffalo, New York; and Cleveland-New York via Pittsburgh.

Most of these routes would have multiple daily frequencies including four daily roundtrips on the Chicago-Cincinnati route.

The 3C corridor service would be three daily roundtrips while the Cleveland-New York service would be two daily roundtrips via Buffalo and one roundtrip via Pittsburgh.

Amtrak would fund these services through a program for which it is seeking $300 million from Congress.

For its part, Amtrak has been issuing a written statement to reporters seeking information that is far less detailed.

After stating that corridor services of 500 miles are the fastest growing segment of its network, the passenger carrier has said, “We have developed a visionary plan to expand rail service across the nation, providing service to large metropolitan areas that have little or no Amtrak service.

“We are working with our state partners, local officials and other stakeholders to understand their interests in new and improved Amtrak service and will be releasing that plan soon. We will call on Congress to authorize and fund Amtrak’s expansion in such corridors by allowing us to cover most of the initial capital and operating costs of new or expanded routes”

And that’s it. The statement did not provide any details about specific routes and service levels.

The specific information came from All Aboard Ohio, an advocacy group that has long sought without success to push for creation of a network of passenger trains in the Buckeye state.

But is this proposal the “game changer” that some on social media are calling it?

It could be but keep in mind it is simply a proposal. There is no guarantee Congress will approve funding for the corridor development program and no guarantee that any of the proposed Ohio trains will ever turn a wheel.

AAO public affairs director Kenneth Prendergast acknowledged in an interview with Trains magazine that the five corridors that his group has identified are “more of an outline or goal than a plan.”

Amtrak officials have been meeting with local officials throughout Ohio to discuss the corridor program proposal. Similar meetings have been held in other states, including Tennessee and Kansas.

Based on what Amtrak government affairs officials said during state legislative hearings in those states, Amtrak would front the costs of route development and pay operating expenses on a sliding scale for up to five years.

State and local governments would have to begin underwriting the service starting in the second year and assume all funding after the fifth year.

If you read the Amtrak statement carefully, it says the passenger carrier would pay for most of the initial capital and operating costs.

That is not necessarily the 100 percent federal funding factoid that AAO described in a post on its website and it officers have been talking up in news media interviews.

In fairness, though, the AAO post later said that Amtrak might pay up to 100 percent of the initial capital costs and up to 100 percent of the operating costs for the first two years.

Given that Amtrak has yet to release details about the corridor development program and has yet to formally ask Congress to fund it, there is much that remains unknown.

And given that the Amtrak statement falls short of saying it will pay all costs of getting a route up and running it is reasonable to conclude that state and local governments would need to pay something, although we don’t know yet what that would be.

One guess is local and state money would need to help fund station development.

Not even AAO expects the proposed services to come to fruition anytime soon.

Writing on Twitter, AAO said it can take three to six years to get a route started depending on its complexity.

In the meantime, AAO has said it will seek a “small appropriation” in the next biennial budget to pay for state-level planning of the five proposed corridors.

It is not clear whether Gov. Mike DeWine and Ohio legislative leaders would be receptive to that.

AAO argues that DeWine is more inclined to be supportive of passenger rail than was his predecessor, John Kasich.

As a gubernatorial candidate in 2010, Kasich adamantly opposed using a $400 million federal stimulus grant the state had received to start 3C service.

Upon being elected, Kasich returned that money to the U.S. Department of Transportation although not before making an unsuccessful pitch that the state be allowed to redirect the grant toward highway development.

AAO contends that DeWine has asked the Ohio Department of Transportation to put passenger rail “back on the radar.” But the scope of DeWine’s support for passenger rail has yet to be publicly articulated.

It is all but certain that once concrete proposals are introduced in the legislature authorizing spending state money on rail passenger service development that opposition will arise from opponents decrying wasting public money.

Another unknown is what demands the host railroads would make to agree to allow these trains to use their tracks.

We know that in the past host railroads have submitted lists of millions of dollars of infrastructure improvements as the price of acceptance.

How necessary those improvements were is debatable, but the demands seemed exorbitant enough to discourage the proposed service.

Such pricey demands have thwarted efforts to operate the Chicago-New York Cardinal and the Los Angeles-New Orleans Sunset Limited daily rather than tri-weekly.

Some of the articles and social media posts about the proposed Ohio corridors have noted that President Joseph Biden is an avid supporter of passenger rail and is expected to release an infrastructure proposal later this year.

Passenger rail advocates are hoping to use that as the springboard to shake loose billions of federal dollars for passenger rail development.

It may be a time to be optimistic yet nothing is certain. At best Amtrak’s proposal represents hope. But as we’ve seen in the past, those hopes can be a very fragile thing.

Amtrak to Release Corridor Proposal Soon

February 2, 2021

Amtrak said on Monday in a public statement that it plans to release soon its proposal for the development of corridor services.

The statement noted that it has been discussing with state and local officials new opportunities for intercity passenger rail service.

“Frequent and reliable corridor routes of typically less than 500 miles represent the fastest growing segment of Amtrak service,” the statement said. “Population growth, changing demographics, travel preferences and environmental concerns all point to new opportunities for intercity passenger rail.”

Amtrak said its plan seeks to expand rail service across the nation with a focus on providing service to large metropolitan areas that have little or no Amtrak service. 

Its contacts with state and local officials has sought to learn of interests in new and improved Amtrak service.

Although the Amtrak statement had few details on what it will propose, it indicated that its plan will ask Congress to authorize and fund Amtrak’s expansion by allowing the intercity passenger carrier to cover most of the initial capital and operating costs of new or expanded routes.

The Tennessee Passenger Expansion Waltz: A Serious Proposal or Just a Talking Point for Public Consumption?

January 18, 2020

The news this past week that an Amtrak executive spoke to a Tennessee legislative transportation committee is being seen by some as the first tangible step that Amtrak is moving to seek to implement a vision that CEO Richard Anderson has been articulating for more than a year.

Anderson and Amtrak senior vice president Stephen Gardner have spoken in interviews and occasional appearances about transforming Amtrak’s route network to one more focused on corridor service between urban centers, particularly growing metropolitan areas.

They repeatedly have hammered home the point that many of the nation’s fastest growing cities are unserved by Amtrak or underserved by trains arriving at inconvenient hours.

Such talk has alarmed many rail passenger advocates who see is as code language that means dismantling the carrier’s long-distance routes.

Indeed Anderson and Gardner have been bad mouthing long-distance trains, saying they lose money and could be restructured into the type of corridor services they have described in principle.

Amtrak’s aborted efforts to truncate the route of the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief by creating a bus bridge between western Kansas and Albuquerque is often cited as Exhibit A of Anderson’s plan to kill long-distance passenger trains aside from one or two “experiential trains.”

Waltzing in Tennessee

The appearance of Ray Lang, Amtrak’s senior director of government affairs, at a meeting of the Tennessee House Transportation Committee was significant for a number of reasons, but two in particular stand out.

First, it was the first time Amtrak has named a specific route that fits the criteria that Anderson and Gardner have been talking up.

That route would link Atlanta and Nashville, but Lang also talked about extending a pair of Midwest corridor trains to Memphis.

Second, it offered concrete proof that Amtrak expects state and local governments to pay for its vision of the future of rail passenger travel.

It is not clear why Amtrak chose Tennessee as the opening act for what promises to be lengthy process.

Perhaps Amtrak has quietly sounded out other states on their interest in ponying up money for new rail passenger service and we just haven’t heard about it.

Or perhaps Amtrak projects the Tennessee routes as among the most likely to succeed.

The news reports out of the Volunteer State generally portrayed a favorable reception to Amtrak’s proposals with some legislators speaking well of the prospect of rail passenger service where none exists now.

Atlanta and Nashville have never been linked by Amtrak and Tennessee’s capitol has been off the Amtrak route network since the Floridian makes its final trips between Chicago and Florida in early October 1979.

Amtrak probably viewed its road show in Nashville as a first step. It might also have been seeking to gauge the interest of Tennessee lawmakers in funding the service.

An Amtrak spokesman and CSX executive said as much.

“We are also talking to current state partners regarding how additional frequencies might be implemented,” said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari to Trains magazine.

“This is the first we’re seeing of this,” CSX State Government and Community Affairs VP Jane Covington said during the committee hearing.

Covington said it was her understanding that Amtrak was trying “to simply gauge the state’s interest.”

Whatever the case, nothing is imminent and there is no assurance that the routes discussed will ever operate.

There are numerous hurdles the service needs to clear starting with the willingness of Tennessee legislators to spend the money to underwrite the operating losses of the trains, which have been estimated at $3 million annually.

State and local governments also will likely be asked to advance money for capital expenditures on such things as stations.

Warning Shots Fired

Other players in the process will also play a role in whether the trains operate.

Chief among them is would-be host railroad CSX.

CSX’s Covington fired a warning shot across the bow in saying, “introducing passenger trains to heavily used freight lines will be a complex, costly process.

“And I understand that you guys are hearing from your constituents about the crowded roads, and you’re obviously looking for solutions to that. But we want to make sure you do it in a way to make sure it doesn’t backfire and divert freight off the rails and onto the highways.”

That’s another way of saying that CSX will demand some very expensive infrastructure improvements as the price of agreeing to host the trains.

More than likely the price tag for those projects will be more than state lawmakers are willing to pay for a service that Amtrak said will lose money.

Another player will be the Illinois Department of Transportation, which funds the trains now operating between Chicago and Carbondale, Illinois, that Amtrak has proposed extending to Memphis.

Amtrak spokesman Magliari said it would be relatively easy to have the southbound Saluki and northbound Illini serve Memphis because Amtrak already has crews based in Carbondale who operate the City of New Orleans on host railroad Canadian National between Carbondale and Memphis.

But what looks easy or even possible on paper may not be so in practice. IDOT will want assurance that its interests won’t be harmed in any rescheduling of the trains.

An unknown about the additional service to Memphis is whether the state of Kentucky would be willing to help fund trains that run through their state.

Looming in the background is the Sept. 30 expiration of the current surface transportation act that authorizes Amtrak funding among other things.

No one in Congress has yet released to the public a draft surface transportation bill and details about what those drafts will ultimately contain have been scarce.

“It’s going to take anywhere from 12 to 24 months to redo the surface transportation bill,” said Amtrak’s Lang in the legislature hearing.

He reiterated the rhetoric that Anderson and Gardner have been using in suggesting that without a restructuring of its route network Amtrak will wither away.

“We think this presents us an opportunity to really transform the company,” Lang said.

Magliari echoed that theme in his interview with Trains when he said the passenger carrier is engaging in outreach efforts to enlist future support from states now underserved by outlining what routes might be viable.

History Lessons

At the time that Amtrak began in May 1971, the only intercity passenger service between Nashville and Atlanta was the former Georgian of the Louisville & Nashville.

That train operated with single coach between St. Louis and Atlanta and had a travel time of seven hours between Nashville and Atlanta.

Amtrak’s Chicago-Florida route served Nashville but not via Atlanta.

The planners who set up Amtrak’s initial route network considered operating between Nashville and Atlanta but declined to do so due to difficult operating conditions, including a top speed of 40 miles per hour between Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Atlanta.

Another complication was that Amtrak would need to build a station in Georgia’s capitol city.

The Floridian was one of Amtrak’s most troubled trains and then Amtrak President Paul Resitrup said in 1977 that its future was hopeless unless it could be routeded via Atlanta.

In April 1978 Amtrak announced a preliminary plan to route the Floridian via Atlanta, but it fell apart when L&N refused to host the train, citing freight train congestion.

The Southern Railway demanded $20 million in track improvements as its price for hosting the Floridian to Atlanta.

The Floridian never made it to Atlanta before its 1979 discontinuance.

In October 1989 Congress directed Amtrak to study resuming service between Chicago and Florida via Atlanta.

That plan has the support of the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, which hosted a conference at which then Amtrak President W. Graham Claytor Jr. said the train would only become reality with financial support from the states along the route.

That never materialized and opposition from CSX and Norfolk Southern torpedoed a demonstration route during the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta.

Claytor was involved in another effort to revive passenger service to Atlanta in the early 2000s.

That proposal was to extend the Kentucky Cardinal to Nashville from Louisville and a test train ran over the route in December 2001.

Amtrak told CSX it wanted to extend the Kentucky Cardinal over the 181-mile route once owned by L&N and used by the Floridian.

Claytor told a congressional committee he was bending over backwards and making every effort to get passenger service to Nashville.

Apparently Claytor couldn’t bend far enough or do enough because Amtrak still hasn’t returned to Nashville.

Political Strategy

All involved have been careful to emphasize that the proposed Nashville-Atlanta service is still in the idea stage.

Much needs to happen to make this train a reality and a best case scenario is it will be four to five years – or more – before the Music City Peach or whatever name it is given appears in the Amtrak timetable.

You have to wonder just how serious Amtrak is about its vision of bringing frequent daylight service to unserved or underserved corridors linking growing metropolitan areas.

Lang said this week in Nashville, “Our route map doesn’t really reflect where the nation’s population has shifted to — places like Nashville, Louisville, Columbus and Las Vegas that we don’t serve at all.”

Those make for good talking points, but Amtrak management must know based on its experience in working with host railroads how obstinate and demanding they can be.

It also must know that asking states for money is one thing but getting it is another. Remember the Hoosier State?

The Rail Passengers Association commented on its website on Friday, “CSX is required by law to host Amtrak trains, but has the ability to price state DOTs and Amtrak out of the market if it so chooses.”

RPA, Amtrak and anyone who has paid any attention at all to the behavior of Amtrak’s host railroads knows how they have wielded that power on multiple occasions.

Rail passenger advocates by nature must put on an optimistic face so RPA also said this about Tennessee service expansion proposal: “State officials will have to act accordingly, and work to bring all stakeholder groups onboard.”

That is much easier said than done particularly given that Tennessee has never funded Amtrak service and it is not know how committed state policy makers are to seeing through what Amtrak has proposed.

Has any else noticed that no one is talking about whether the Nashville-Atlanta service will need funding from Georgia, another state that has never funded Amtrak service?

This is not to say it can’t be done, but it won’t be easy and going into this process the odds are stacked against the prospect.

Amtrak’s top management probably has convinced itself that it really can have the type of network that Anderson and Gardner keep harping about.

But are they serious? Or is this just another talking point to be used to strategic advantage to provide political cover as management goes about scuttling the long-distance trains?

Amtrak could offer its plan to, say, carve up the route of the Capitol Limited into a Chicago-Pittsburgh service funded by Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois.

When that funding fails to materialize, Amtrak can say it tried to “save” service to those states but their elected lawmakers declined to pay for it.

Don’t blame us, go talk to the folks in Harrisburg, Columbus, Indianapolis and Springfield because they’re the ones who made the decision.

It remains to be seen if Amtrak is actually going to release a master plan that spells out what specific new services it envisions.

That plan, if is exists, will look impressive and get a lot of people excited just as the Amtrak road show in Tennessee did this week.

But I can’t help but wonder if it will be just another plan that winds up sitting in a drawer somewhere as Amtrak shrinks to a company with service in the Northeast and a few other state-supported corridors.