Posts Tagged ‘Norfolk Southern’

Track Works Leads to Wolverine Sked Changes

July 21, 2021

Schedules of Amtrak’s Wolverine Service between Chicago and Detroit (Pontiac) will be temporarily change between July 20 and Oct. 31 due to track work being performed by Amtrak and Norfolk Southern.

Train 350 will depart Chicago 15 minutes earlier at 7:05 a.m. and will be scheduled to arrive in Pontiac at 2:46 p.m.

Train 351 will depart Pontiac 7 minutes earlier at 5:43 a.m. and is scheduled to arrive in Chicago 15 minutes later at 10:47 a.m.

Train 354 will depart Chicago at its scheduled time of 5:50 p.m, but be rescheduled to arrive in Pontiac 15 minutes later at 1:17 a.m.

Train 355 will depart Pontiac 7 minutes earlier at 5:28 a.m and is scheduled to arrive in Chicago 15 minutes later at 10:55 p.m.

An Amtrak service advisory said Trains 352 and 353 remain suspended but are expected to resume operation on Sept. 7.

Wolverine Service during the COVID-19 pandemic fell to one pair of trains between Chicago and Pontiac. Service increased to two pairs of trains on July 19.

2 Piedmonts Canceled Due to Track Work

July 19, 2021

Track work being performed by Norfolk Southern has led to the cancellation of Piedmont Service trains 74 and 75 between July 19 to 22.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said other Piedmont Service trains and the New York-Charlotte Carolinian would not be affected by the track work and would operate as normal.

No alternative transportation is being provided for passengers displaced from Nos. 74 and 75 during the period.

The trains operate between Charlotte and Raleigh, North Carolina.

Amtrak Wants STB to Expedite Case Against CSX, NS

July 9, 2021

Amtrak this week asked the U.S. Surface Transportation Board to give its case against CSX and Norfolk Southern expedited handling.

The passenger carrier brought an action against the two railroads last March over their alleged refusal to cooperate in connection with the launch of passenger train service between New Orleans and Mobile, Alabama.

However, in its filing this week, Amtrak acknowledged that both freight carriers have responded to its call for access so it can prepare for a service launch on or around Jan. 1, 2022.

The proposal to launch New Orleans-Mobile service has languished for the past five years in part because of a never completed traffic study to determine what infrastructure improvements are needed on the route before it can host passenger trains.

The route until August 2005 hosted the tri-weekly Sunset Limited east of New Orleans. That service was suspended due to damage to stations and track during Hurricane Katrina.

Most of the route is owned by CSX with NS operating a portion of what Amtrak would use in the New Orleans area.

Amtrak asked the STB last March to institute a proceeding and establish the procedural schedule proposed for a hearing and an order requiring CSX and NS to allow Amtrak to operate twice daily round-trip Gulf Coast service on their lines.

CSX and responded by asking regulators to dismiss the Amtrak petition.

Amtrak also is seeking an interim STB order requiring CSX and NS to provide Amtrak with access to their rail lines between New Orleans and Mobile in order to perform all necessary preparations for the Gulf Coast service.

This week Amtrak said CSX by a letter dated June 30 granted Amtrak’s request for access to CSX property and personnel so that Amtrak can: (1) conduct a survey for an interim layover track in Mobile; (2) undertake repairs to stations in Bay St. Louis, Gulfport, Biloxi, Pascagoula, and Mobile; and (3) begin the process of qualifying Amtrak crews to operate along the Gulf Coast corridor.

In a letter dated May 17, 2021, NS said Amtrak’s existing service over NS lines in New Orleans would fully facilitate Amtrak’s access to the safety and operational information Amtrak sought to obtain.

The passenger carrier indicated that in the wake of receiving those letters it is moving ahead with preparations to launch the Gulf Coast Service.

Amtrak Raises Doubts about CN-KCS Merger

July 8, 2021

For years the Southern Rail Commission has talked about instituting intercity rail passenger between New Orleans and Baton Route, Louisiana.

But those efforts have been stymied by the refusal of would-be host railroad Kansas City Southern to allow an inspection train to examine the route or even to talk with the Commission about instituting the service.

The future of the proposed service has become a point of contention in the efforts of Canadian National to acquire KCS, a matter now pending before the U.S. Surface Transportation Board.

In an attempt to mitigate concerns that the CN-KCS merger will reduce rail competition in the New Orleans-Baton Route corridor, CN has offered to sell the KCS route between the two cities.

But that offer comes with a catch. CN would retain the right to offer freight service over the route.

Amtrak recently weighed in on the matter by telling the STB in a filing that this would make institution of passenger rail service much more difficult.

The Amtrak filing said CN’s plan is “the equivalent of a homeowner selling their house but reserving the right to continue to live in it.”

Canadian Pacific also wants to buy KCS and has pledged to cooperate with Amtrak in restoring New Orleans-Baton Rouge service.

In a letter to Louisiana Transportation Secretary Dr. Shawn Wilson, CP CEO Keith Creel cited “CP’s proven track record of co-operating and operating passenger trains on its network.”

The letter acknowledged the route need extensive infrastructure work to bring it up to passenger standards, but said, “If we are successful [in acquiring KCS], we would be in a strong position to ensure the level of maintenance is up to a mainline standard that would efficiently support both freight and passenger operations.”

Aside from New Orleans-Baton Rouge service, the SRC also has pushed to create a Dallas section of the Crescent that would operate on KCS tracks west of Meridian, Mississippi, via Jackson, Mississippi, and Shreveport, Louisiana.

The Creel letter said  CP would be committed to reviewing and participating in studies with the goal of introducing a (passenger) train pair in the Meridian-Dallas corridor

However, Creel said that would be contingent on getting the support of Norfolk Southern, which with KCS has a joint venture to improve the route.

The proposed Dallas section of the Crescent would be expected to use Union Pacific tracks west of Shreveport because the KCS roué to Dallas is circuitous.

NS, Virginia Reach Agreement on New Amtrak Route

May 10, 2021

Norfolk Southern and the state of Virginia recently reached an agreement that will extend Amtrak into the New River Valley region of the state.

The Western Rail Initiative is a $257.2 million project to extend an Amtrak Northeast Direct route beyond Roanoke, Virginia.

The funding includes $38.2 million for acquisition of 28.5 miles of right-of-way and track of the Virginian Line from the Salem Crossovers west of Roanoke to Merrimac in Christiansburg.

Another $219 million in infrastructure investments include improvements to the NS yard in Roanoke; a 7-mile siding from Nokesville to Calverton that will create a continuous two-track corridor for 22 miles from Manassas to Remington; signaling and track upgrades between Salem to Christiansburg; a maintenance facility and passenger platform; and infrastructure improvements along the Route 29/Interstate 81 corridor.

NS has agreed to allow Amtrak to add an additional round-trip train in 2022 between Roanoke and Washington.

Virginia officials said the Roanoke trains will be extended from Roanoke to Christiansburg upon completion of the infrastructure improvements in 2025.

Earlier this year. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam signed legislation to create the New River Valley Passenger Rail Station Authority.

The agency will assist the commonwealth with the development of passenger rail service in the region.

It will be directed by a board consisting of members of each participating locality and institution of higher education.

The commonwealth plans to partner with the agency to fund the construction of a station building, parking and roadway access for the station.

CSX, NS Seek Dismissal of Amtrak STB Case Over Gulf Coast Service

April 30, 2021

CSX and Norfolk Southern have asked the U.S. Surface Transportation Board to dismiss Amtrak’s petition asking regulators to force the two Class 1 railroads to allow operation of new Gulf Coast passenger service next year.

The host railroads said Amtrak’s complaint is not “ripe” because they have not refused Amtrak’s proposed service.

In a filing, the two railroads said they want Amtrak to live up to the commitments it made to complete a joint rail traffic controller modeling study to determine the infrastructure that will be required to support the service Amtrak wants to implement.

Amtrak has proposed operating two daily roundtrips between New Orleans and Mobile, Alabama.

The filing by NS and CSX also contends that Amtrak has not submitted an environmental and historic report with its STB petition, and that Congress did not give Amtrak any cause of action that could support its demand for an “interim order” allowing it to enter other railroads’ lines to perform preparations for new service before the STB decides whether the new service will be allowed.

Furthermore, the host railroads argued that Amtrak lacks important state support to ensure success of the proposed service.

At the center of the dispute is Amtrak’s withdrawing from a traffic study the host railroads contend must be completed before they will discuss what infrastructure improvements are needed to accommodate passenger service.

For its part, Amtrak contends the railroads hindered completion of the study by changing its parameters as it was being conducted.

The passenger carrier at the time it filed its request with the STB in February said it was seeking to force NS and CSX to demonstrate why they cannot host the proposed service.

In statement released after the host railroads asked the STB to dismiss the case, Amtrak said the matter is being considered by regulators and the intercity passenger carrier “fully anticipate the STB’s process will be both transparent and data driven. We will respond to all filings through that docket.”

At the time that Amtrak went to the STB, an Amtrak spokesman indicated that discussions about instituting the service have been ongoing for five years with no sign of a conclusion in sight.

Amtrak contends that federal law gives it a right of access to the host railroads for the proposed Mobile service.

In the past week, the STB case has also drawn the attention of various Alabama political officials.

Gov. Kay Ivey called for completion of the traffic study, which she said it critical for protecting the economic interests of the Port of Mobile.

Ivey said she wants the STB to order Amtrak to complete the traffic study before considering Amtrak’s application.

The governor’s statement to the STB also said, “Alabama has withheld funding for new Gulf Coast passenger service because of our concern that any economic benefit from new passenger rail service will be outweighed by the potential harm to freight rail service based on the current infrastructure. I am particularly concerned about the impact to the Port of Mobile. . .”

Mobile Port Authority CEO John C. Driscoll also has asked the STB to order Amtrak to complete the traffic study.

Port Officials have long expressed concern that passenger operations will adversely affect CSX freight service to the port.

Driscoll said in his statement that the port authority “does not oppose passenger rail into the City of Mobile, but we do have deep concerns regarding Amtrak’s impact on servicing current freight rail as well as servicing future freight capacity demand in the CSX corridor.”

Until August 2005 Amtrak served Mobile with its tri-weekly Sunset Limited, which operated along the Gulf Coast between New Orleans and Jacksonville, Florida.

Operation of Nos. 1 and 2 east of New Orleans was suspended after the route was damaged by Hurricane Katrina.

Alabama Senator Wants Traffic Study Completed

April 1, 2021

An Alabama senator wants Amtrak to complete a traffic study before it moves ahead on instituting new service between New Orleans and Mobile, Alabama.

U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Alabama) outlined his views in letters sent to Amtrak, the U.S. Surface Transportation Board, and host railroads CSX and Norfolk Southern.

Shelby, the vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, said a never-completed traffic study needs to be finished in order to alleviate his concerns that the Amtrak service could negatively affect the region’s growth and commerce. 

“I believe that initiating new Gulf Coast passenger-rail service should be guided by the best available data and information,” Shelby wrote.

“As one of the largest growing seaports in the United States, the Port of Mobile serves as an essential economic driver for the state of Alabama and region. As such, prior to establishing passenger-rail service in Mobile, I believe it is essential that a comprehensive analysis be completed that definitively determines the impact such service would have on existing freight rail service and the Port of Mobile. It is my hope that all parties involved can come to an amicable solution to ensure the study is completed.”

Officials at the Port of Mobile have for some time expressed concern that Amtrak operations would adversely affect CSX rail service to the port.

Shelby was apparently prompted to act after Amtrak asked the STB to compel CSX and NS to explain why they could not host the new service.

Amtrak wants to launch the service in 2022 and has said it has a legal right to use the route.

CSX and NS have balked, saying that a study of how Amtrak would affect freight operations of the host railroads needs to be completed before they will discuss what infrastructure improvements need to be made to accommodate passenger service.

Supporters of the service, including the Southern Rail Commission, have $66 million in funding set aside for those infrastructure projects.

 “It is my hope that all parties involved can come to an amicable solution to ensure the study is completed,” Shelby wrote.

Amtrak said it withdrew from the study because it was getting bogged down by changes to its parameters demanded by the host railroads.

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.