Posts Tagged ‘Norfolk Southern’

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.

Virginia Governor Seeks $50M for New Amtrak Service

February 18, 2021

A proposal by Virginia Governor Ralph Northam for a $50 million one-time general fund allocation for intercity passenger-rail service has heartened residents of the New River Valley region of the state.

Northam wants to use the funding to establish a rail passenger corridor along U.S. Route 29 and Interstate 81.

The proposal would add a second daily round trip to Roanoke and provide new service to the New River Valley.

If adopted, the plan would extend the current and new Roanoke service to the New River Valley.

Virginia transportation officials say they are negotiating with host railroad Norfolk Southern for the additional service.

The state said the existing Amtrak service to Roanoke has been “very successful,” with ridership increasing from its inception in 2009 to more than 220,000 riders in 2019.

The currentl single daily roundtrip between Washington and Roanoke is covering all of its operating costs through ticket revenue.

A feasibility study found the New River Valley has a population of more than 180,000, including more than 40,000 university students.

Ridership for intercity rail passenger service to the region was projected to draw 80,000 riders.

Rail passenger advocates are seeking to form the New River Valley Passenger Rail Authority to oversee the service.

“Clearly this is a step forward because having an authority for example will allow us to do certain things that we can’t otherwise do,” said advocate Larry Hincker about the governor’s funding request.

The authority would bring the local governments together under a state-recognized umbrella.

Amtrak in Ashville

February 2, 2021

For the 1996 National Railway Historical Society convention held in Charlotte, North Carolina, Amtrak provided a chartered train that made a circle trip on Norfolk Southern.

The train traveled via Asheville, North Carolina, The scenic highlights included traversing the famed loops east of the city and coming down Saluda grade, the steepest mainline railroad grade in the United States.

The train is shown here in an NS yard in Asheville where passengers had a layover.

Shortly after this image was made, NS added two of its freight locomotives to the front of the train to provide additional braking power on Saluda grade.

Most of the passenger cars were Amtrak equipment with a few borrowed from the fleet of the North Carolina Department of Transportation for use on Piedmont service trains.

Amtrak has never provided scheduled service to Asheville although the Southern Railway did for a time in the early years of Amtrak.

Va. Officials Say Agreement Close With NS on New Train

January 25, 2021

Virginia officials say they are close to reaching an agreement with Norfolk Southern that would allow additional Amtrak service.

Virginia Transportation Secretary Shannon Valentine told members of the House Appropriations Committee that the state has been talking with NS about new Amtrak service to the New River Valley.

“I will tell you that this has been a dream, really since the first train was launched in Lynchburg in 2009,” Valentine said. “And I can say to you we have never been as close as we are to getting this accomplished.”

Governor Ralph Northam has proposed a $50 million budget amendment to help pay for the new service.

Valentine noted that the Amtrak Northeast Regional service to Roanoke is the only Amtrak service in Virginia that covers all of its operating costs through ticket sales.

The extension of service to the New River Valley would add a second train.

The legislature is also considering a bill that would create a rail authority in the New River Valley. That legislation would help finance construction of a passenger rail station.

Buttigieg Had Experience With Transportation Issues as a Mayor

December 18, 2020

Although U.S Secretary of Transportation nominee Pete Buttigieg has never worked in the transportation field, he has experience with transportation issues from his time as a mid-size city mayor.

Pete Buttigieg

Buttigieg was mayor of South Bend, Indiana, between 2012 and 2019, The city of 100,000, is served by major freight rail lines of Canadian National and Norfolk Southern, and is a stop for Amtrak’s Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited.

South Bend is the eastern terminus of the South Shore commuter line to and from Chicago and has an airport served by several airlines.

A report on the Trains magazine website said Buttigieg as mayor supported a project to add 16.9 miles of double track to the South Shore Line between Gary and Michigan City in Indiana.

That work is part of a $460 million project that includes four new bridges, nine new station platforms and the addition of more than 1,300 parking spaces at four stations.

The South Shore has been awarded a $50.6 million Capital Investment Grant from the Federal Transit Administration for the project.

During his time as mayor, Buttigieg also sought federal funding to extend the South Shore Line from South Bend International Airport to the city’s downtown.

The Trains article said the most controversial rail issue Buttigieg faced as a mayor was the revocation by the Federal Railroad Administration in 2017 of the city’s “quiet zone” on CN and NS because it failed to install median barriers at 11 grade crossings.

Various railroad trade organizations on Wednesday issued statements on Wednesday that were generally supportive of Buttigieg’s nomination, which required U.S. Senate approval.

His resume include having served as an intelligence officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve where he was deployed to Afghanistan in 2014. In the Navy Buttigieg rose to the rank of lieutenant.

He is a South Bend native who graduated from Harvard University and was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University.

Buttigieg also has severed as a a consultant at McKinsey & Company in Chicago.