Posts Tagged ‘CSX’

Options Shown for Pittsfield-NYC Service

April 18, 2018

A study has laid out three options for reviving intercity rail passenger service between Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and New York City.

One option is to use existing Amtrak Empire Service from New York Penn Station on Friday afternoons to Albany-Rensselaer, New York, with a new schedule to Pittsfield and on Sundays, doing the reverse.

Option two would involve a new schedule from New York to Pittsfield on Friday afternoon and back on Sunday afternoon.

The third option calls for building a connecting track between the CSX Berkshire Subdivision and its Schodack Subdivision, to connect the new train from the Amtrak Empire Line just north of Hudson, New York, to the line to Pittsfield.

This project would cost between $18 million and $36 million. This includes the need to install positive train control on freight-only tracks on the Berkshire Sub.

The connecting track would be more than a half-mile long and meet CSX’s standards for a curve at 40 mph, the same speed as the Schodack Subdivision.

The route would be 18 miles shorter than operating via Albany-Rensselaer and feature a running time 20 minutes shorter.

Most of this would be time saved from avoiding adding a locomotive and reversing the train at Albany-Rensselaer.

Depending on the option chosen, the proposed service would have a New York to Pittsfield running time of three-and-a-half to four hours.

The study of route options was conducted by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation at the request of Massachusetts State Sen. Adam Hinds of Pittsfield.

Hinds has in mind a weekend service similar to the Boston to Cape Cod Cape Flyer.

The Pittsfield-New York train would not serve any stations in Connecticut.

With adequate funding and operational support from Amtrak and CSX, the service could begin in 2019 or 2020.

Pittsfield is currently served by the Boston section of the Lake Shore Limited.

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Alabama Gov. Lobbied on Gulf Coast Restoration Funding

April 17, 2018

Southern rail passenger advocates are trying to prod Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey into supporting a proposal to seek federal grants to be used to restore Amtrak service east of New Orleans that was halted in 2005 due to damage from Hurricane Katrina.

Alabama’s match for the federal funds would be $3.5 million, although that could rise to $8.5 million if service is to be restored at Atmore, Alabama, which was one of two cities in the state served by the Sunset Limited before it was discontinued along the Gulf Coast in the wake of Katrina.

The Southern Rail Commission has said Alabama’s share would be spread over four years.

There is a sense of urgency to win the governor’s approval because deadlines for the two federal grant programs are in May and June.

“There are grants available right now that Alabama can take advantage of,” said Wiley Blankenship, CEO of the Coastal Alabama Partnership who serves as the representative of Mobile, Alabama, on the SRC, a 21-member group formed in 1982 to advocate for passenger rail service and pursue funding opportunities for expanded rail passenger service in the South.

Another proposal is to reinstate Amtrak service between Mobile and Birmingham, Alabama, which operated between 1989 and 1995.

That service, known as the Gulf Breeze, was a section of the Crescent, which operates between New York and New Orleans.

The Ivey administration is expected to receive updates on the grant proposals in the coming weeks.

At one time the Sunset Limited ran between Los Angeles and Miami. However, its route had been trimmed to Orlando, Florida, by 2005.

Greg White, SRC vice chairman and a resident of Andalusia, Alabama, expressed optimism that the Commission can bring Ivey’s office “up-to-speed” on the need to move forward.

“We’ve been in transition from one governor to the next and we are finding ourselves in the middle now of a primary campaign,” said White, adding that SRC officials have already met with two cabinet members.

The SRC has noted that the recent federal omnibus budget approved by Congress contains money for two grant programs, one of which was created to restore lost passenger rail service.

The language of the program is such that the SRC believes the Gulf Coast route is the only one eligible for the full $35.5 million appropriation.

Another program has $20 million to support operational expenses for new passenger rail service.

One sticking point in restoring Gulf Coast service is the cost of rebuilding infrastructure destroyed or damaged by Katrina.

CSX, which owns most of the route the train would use, has said rebuilding the line for passenger train use would cost $2.3 billion.

The Gulf Coast Working Group, created by Congress in 2015 to study restoring the service, has put the cost at $117.7 million.

The SRC has been critical of the CSX estimate, calling its demands unreasonable. CSX said much of the cost would involve rehabilitating 17 drawbridges between New Orleans and Orlando.

Without that, the railroad said, it would be a near impossibility to run passenger trains on the line under present conditions that fulfill on-time expectations.

Budget Bill Gives Boost to Efforts to Restore Amtrak Service Along the

March 28, 2018

Gulf Coast proponents of restoring Amtrak service are looking toward a provision of the recently approved federal budget as a cause for optimism.

The $1.3 trillion omnibus bill contains $20 million for a grant program aimed at initiating, restoring or enhancing passenger rail service.

An aide to Florida Senator Bill Nelson said the program is competitive but was created with the Gulf Coast service in mind.

The Southern Rail Commission said the budget bill contained $592 million for the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements grant program, which has $35.5 million to restore lost passenger service.

The Gulf Coast Rail Service Working Group, a partnership between the Federal Railroad Administration, Southern Rail Commission and 28 cities, regional planning councils and state departments of transportation last July sent a report to Congress that urges creation of daily Amtrak service between New Orleans and Orlando.

The route was served by Amtrak’s Sunset Limited until that service was suspended following extensive damage to the route by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The report estimated the cost of service restoration at $115 million, but track owner CSX contends it would be $2 billion.

The working group has expressed doubt about the CSX figure but said it could not validate it without knowing the methodology behind the estimate.

Since the report was completed, CSX has offered for sale the track between Jacksonville and Pensacola, Florida, that Amtrak once used.

Knox Ross, vice chairman of the Southern Rail Commission, is optimistic that if CSX sells the track that could boost efforts to restore passenger service to the Florida panhandle.

“(State and federal regulators) could make the passenger train a condition of sale,” Ross said. “That they have to maintain the line to at least current standard, and that they have to allow the (passenger) train.”

The Southern Rail Commission is also seeking twice-daily rail service between New Orleans and Mobile, Alabama.

“We’ve got a short-term opportunity to get something done,” he said.

One stumbling block to service restoration could be the lack of positive train control on the line between Pensacola to Orlando.

CSX Route Sale Could Affect Service Restoration

March 19, 2018

CSX has offered for sale a portion of the route once used in Florida by the Sunset Limited.

Passenger train advocates are concerned that this might affect their efforts to reduce rail passenger service between New Orleans and Jacksonville, Florida.

The track in question is a 300-mile segment between Jacksonville and Pensacola.

The Southern Rail Commission is lobbying government regulators to consider the inclusion of passenger rail as an aspect of the sale.

If they are able to do that, it could overcome one hurdle to reinstating Amtrak service that was suspended in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina damaged the route.

CSX has opposed resisted allowing Amtrak to use the route.

“There will be regulatory processes that govern the sale of this line,” said Knox Ross, the vice chairman SRC and former mayor of Pelahatchie, Mississippi. “We want to make sure that the regulators understand we want to bring the train back and that that be considered as part of any sale.”

Signal Work Affects Richmond Trains

March 16, 2018

Signal work being performed by CSX will result in delays of 45 to 120 minutes for all trains arriving and departing Staples Mills station in Richmond, Virginia.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said that on March 26 the Carolinian will operate between only Rocky Mount and Charlotte, North  Carolina. No service will be provided at stations between New York and Rocky Mount.

The Palmetto will operate between New York and Washington only. Service will not be available at any station served by the Palmetto south of Washington.

On March 27, the Carolinian will again operate only between  Rocky Mount and Charlotte with service canceled between New York and Rocky Mount  and no alternate transportation provided.

Other trains will be affected by the signal work on March 26 as follows:

  • Train 67 will terminate at Washington with no alternate transportation provided between Washington and Newport News.
  • Train 94 will originate at Richmond Staples Mills station with no alternate transportation between Newport News and Richmond.
  • Train 85 will terminate at Washington with no alternate transportation between Washington and Richmond.
  • Train 84 will depart Norfolk at 6 am and operate 10 minutes earlier through its arrival in Richmond. Normal schedules will resume from Richmond to New York.
  • Train 66 will originate in Washington with no alternate transportation between Newport News and Washington.
  • Train 125 will terminate at Washington with no alternate transportation provided between Washington and Norfolk.
  • All other trains will operate normally

Trains will operate on 27 as follows:

  • Train 66 will originate at Richmond with no alternate transportation provided between Newport News and Richmond.
  • Train 67 will terminate at Richmond with no alternate transportation provided between Richmond and Newport News.
  • Train 84 will originate at Washington with no alternate transportation between Norfolk and Washington.
  • Train 174 will originate at Washington with no alternate transportation between Richmond and Washington.
  • All other trains will operate normally.

Passing in Harpers Ferry

March 8, 2018

Amtrak’s westbound Capitol Limited has completed its station work in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, and is headed for its next stop in Martinsburg.

On the other track an eastbound CSX manifest freight is about to reach the station.

NTSB Releases More Info on Silver Star Crash

March 1, 2018

The National Transportation Safety Board on Wednesday released a preliminary report on Feb. 4 head-on collision between Amtrak’s southbound Silver Star and a CSX auto rack train in South Carolina that provides additional details about the crash that caused an estimated $25 million in damage and claimed the lives of two Amtrak crew members. At least 92 passengers and crew members aboard Amtrak No. 91 were injured.

The report reviews the CSX dispatching system at the time of the accident and reveals how two CSX crew members of the parked auto rack train that Amtrak struck managed to escape injury.

The report said the CSX engineer had gotten off his train before the Silver Star entered the siding due to a misaligned switch. He was able to run to safety.

The CSX conductor was thrown off the locomotive of his train by the impact of the collision and suffered minor injuries.

The three-page NTSB report does not seek to assess blame for the accident, but reiterates earlier released information that a misaligned switch led to the collision.

A more detailed report that states a probable cause along with recommendations will be issued several months later.

In the meantime, the NTSB has recommended that the Federal Railroad Administration issue an emergency order providing instructions for instances in which a signal system has been turned off and a switch has been reported as relined for a main track.

Other information contained in the preliminary NTSB report includes:

Amtrak Train No. 91 reached a top speed of 57 mph after leaving its station stop in nearby Columbia, South Carolina. This was below the 59 mph limit allowed under signal suspension rules.

Information taken from the Amtrak locomotive’s event recorder indicated that before it stopped recording the engineer had activated the locomotive horn for three seconds and brake pipe pressure began decreasing two seconds later.

The engineer then moved the throttle from full throttle to idle as the train slowed to 54 mph.

A second later, the train’s emergency brakes were applied, by which time its speed had fallen to 53 mph.

The recording ended as the air brakes were approaching maximum braking effort and train speed was 50 mph.

The forward-facing video camera of the Amtrak P42DC was recovered from the wreckage and sent to the NTSB laboratory in Washington for analysis.

It stopped recording shortly before the collision, but NTSB engineers are attempting forensic efforts to recover further information.

Investigators have also recovered the forward-facing video camera and event recorder of the lead CSX locomotive.

The engineer and conductor of the Amtrak train died as a result of the collision and at least 92 passengers and crew members of the Amtrak train were transported to local medical facilities.

Amtrak Pays Victims of its Accidents Even if the Host Railroad is at Fault or Negligent in its Cause

February 12, 2018

Based on information released by the National Transportation Safety Board, the cause of the collision in South Carolina that left two Amtrak crew members dead seems pretty straightforward.

A switch had been left open, thus routing the southbound Silver Star into a head-on crash with a parked CSX auto rack train.

That might seem to be the fault of a CSX employee although it’s possible the switch could have been tampered with by someone else.

The NTSB is expected to release its report on the cause of the accident more than year from now.

Whatever the cause of the accident, Amtrak likely will wind up paying the money that will go to those filing lawsuits in the wake of the crash.

It won’t matter if CSX is found to have sole responsibility for the accident, Amtrak likely will pay the claims.

The accident on Feb. 4 in Cayce, South Carolina, has trained the spotlight again on a little-known fact about Amtrak’s relationships with its host railroads.

Agreements between the passenger carrier and its host railroads leave Amtrak responsible for paying the legal claims that stem from accidents.

The exact language of those contracts has been kept secret at the insistence of the railroads and Amtrak, say lawyers who have been involved in legal proceedings involving Amtrak and a host railroad.

Amtrak has track use contracts with 30 railroads and all of them are “no fault” agreements.

As explained by an Amtrak executive in a September 2017 seminar hosted by the Federal Highway Administration, that means Amtrak takes full responsibility for its property and passengers and the injuries of anyone hit by a train.

A host railroad is only responsible for its property and employees.

Amtrak manager Jim Blair said at the seminar that this was “a good way for Amtrak and the host partners to work together to get things resolved quickly and not fight over issues of responsibility.”

It doesn’t matter if the host railroad was negligent in causing the crash.

It wasn’t always that way, but things changed after a 1987 crash on the Northeast Corridor at Chase, Maryland, when Amtrak’s New York-bound Colonial struck a Conrail light power move that had run a stop signal.

Sixteen died in the crash. During the investigation, authorities learned that the Conrail engineer was under the influence of marijuana at the time.

Although Conrail paid damages from the resulting lawsuits, the railroad industry began pushing for Amtrak to assume liability for damage claims resulting from accidents, even if the host railroad was at fault for the cause of the accident.

A former member of the Amtrak board of directors said that following the Chase crash, Amtrak faced “a lot of threats from the other railroads.”

The former board member spoke with the Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the company’s internal legal discussions are supposed to remain confidential and he doesn’t want to harm his own business relationships by airing a contentious issue.

The Amtrak board member said management gave in to the railroad industry demands because it felt it couldn’t afford to pick a fight.

“The law says that Amtrak is guaranteed access, but it’s up to the goodwill of the railroad as to whether they’ll put you ahead or behind a long freight train,” he said.

The practice of Amtrak paying damages for accidents involving its trains was revealed in a 2004 New York Times series on railroad grade crossing safety.

Following that disclosure, the U.S. Surface Transportation Board ruled that a railroad “cannot be indemnified for its own gross negligence, recklessness, willful or wanton misconduct,” said a 2010 letter by then-Surface Transportation Board chairman Dan Elliott to members of Congress.

That ruling gives Amtrak grounds to pursue gross negligence claims against freight railroads. However, Amtrak has declined to do so.

“If Amtrak felt that if they didn’t want to pay, they’d have to litigate it,” said Elliott, now an attorney at the law firm of Conner & Winters.

The Associated Press reported in the wake of the Cayce crash that it was unable to find any case in which Amtrak pursued a claim against a freight railroad since the Chase incident.

AP said it asked Amtrak, CSX and the Association of American Railroads to identify any example within the last decade of a railroad contributing to a settlement or judgment in a passenger rail accident that occurred on its track. However, none would provide such an example.

Robert L. Potrroff is a member of a Kansas law firm that specializes in railroad accident litigation, told the AP that even in a case in which establishing gross negligence by a freight railroad is possible he has never seen any indication that the railroad and Amtrak are at odds.

“You’ll frequently see Amtrak hire the same lawyers the freight railroads use,” he said.

Another attorney, Ron Goldman, who has represented passenger rail accident victims, said he has long been curious whether it was Amtrak or freight railroads that ended up paying for settlements and judgments.

“The question of how they share that liability is cloaked in secrecy,” he said. “The money is coming from Amtrak when our clients get the check.”

Pottroff said he has long thought that Amtrak should fight its contract railroads on liability matters because it would make safety a larger financial consideration for them. He also said there is a fairness issue at stake.

Following the Chase crash, a federal judge ruled that forcing Amtrak to take financial responsibility for “reckless, wanton, willful, or grossly negligent acts by Conrail” was contrary to good public policy.

Pontroff is representing clients who have sued Amtrak and CSX following last week’s South Carolina crash, but doesn’t expect CSX to pay any settlements or judgments.

“Amtrak has a beautiful defense — the freight railroad is in control of all [of] the infrastructure,” he said. “[But] Amtrak always pays.”

The railroad industry contends that it has ample incentive to keep tracks safe for employees, customers and investors.

“Our goal remains zero accidents,” said CSX spokesman Bryan Tucker in a statement to the Associated Press.

CSX Employee Gave Wrong Info About Switch

February 7, 2018

A Jacksonville, Florida, newspaper reported on Tuesday that incorrect information provided by a CSX employee helped lead to a head-on collision early Sunday morning between a CSX auto rack train and Amtrak’s Silver Star.

Two Amtrak employees were killed in the collision in Cayce, South Carolina, and 116 were injured.

The Jacksonville Business Journal said it based its report on CSX records that it obtained and a source the newspaper did not name.

Those documents show that Amtrak’s New York to Miami No. 91 had stopped five miles before the collision site.

At the time, the signal system in that area had been off since 8 a.m. on Saturday as work progressed to install positive train control.

After a CSX conductor at the site informed the dispatcher that a manual control switch had been moved back into its normal position, the dispatcher cleared the Amtrak train to proceed.

However, the switch had not been restored and Amtrak No. 91 was routed into the path of the parked auto rack train, which did not have a crew on board at the time of the collision.

With the signal system turned off, dispatchers were governing movement in the area with track warrants.

National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Robert Sumwalt has told reporters during press briefings that the CSX auto rack train had backed into the siding after working at an auto facility.

Sumwalt said investigators discovered that the switch that had been opened to enable the CSX train to move into the siding was locked with a padlock in the open position.

Amtrak No. 91 had 149 passengers and eight crew members on board at the time of the crash.

Signal System Had Been Turned Off to Install PTC

February 6, 2018

Some news accounts of the head-on collision between an Amtrak train and a CSX freight train in South Carolina early Sunday morning mentioned that the signal system in place on the line had been turned off.

There was a reason for that. CSX crews were working to cut in a positive train control system on the route, the same system that National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Robert Sumwalt said might have prevented the crash.

During a news conference on Monday afternoon, Sumwalt said Amtrak’s southbound Silver Star was operating with track warrants in temporarily dark territory.  See a post below for an account of the final seconds before the crash.

Crews for Amtrak and CSX were in verbal contact with the dispatcher controlling that stretch of track where the work was being performed, which is the Columbia Subdivision of the Florence Division.

Sumwalt said NTSB investigators have thus far not found any problems with the track where the collision occurred in Cayce, South Carolina.

Earlier NTSB news briefings said that a switch had been left aligned to route Amtrak train No. 91 into the path of the CSX auto rack train, which was sitting on a siding without a crew onboard.

The collision, which destroyed Amtrak P42DC No. 47 and CSX AC44CW Nos. 130 resulted in an Amtrak engineer and conductor being killed.

Sumwalt said the NTSB inquiry will be broader than the mechanics of how the crash occurred.

“It is very important that we look at each of these incidents in isolation to determine if there are systemic issues,” Sumwalt, making reference to other incidents involving Amtrak in recent months. “Last Wednesday, it was a garbage truck that was on the track. We aren’t sure what happened here [and] why that switch was lined for the siding. We do look at safety culture issues and we did a report in October.”

That report, which reviewed an April 2016 incident in the Northeast Corridor in Pennsylvania that left two Amtrak maintenance of way workers dead, was critical of Amtrak’s lack of an effective safety culture.