Posts Tagged ‘Southern Rail Commission’

CSX Disputes SRC Comments on Gulf Coast Service

June 21, 2017

CSX has taken issue with comments made by a member of the Southern Rail Commission that it has increased the amount of money needed for capital improvements to restore Amtrak service to the Gulf Coast.

Commission member Jerry Gehman said that since E. Hunter Harrison became CEO of the railroad that it has demanded a $2.3 billion investment to restore passenger service east of New Orleans.

Gehman contended that the railroad had agreed to a lower sum in negotiations held before Harrison became CEO.

“The truth is that, according to a study that the Federal Railroad Administration co-sponsored in 2016, a minimum investment of more than $2 billion is required to create the infrastructure needed to safely support the desired service, and even at that level of spending it may not be possible to meet customers’ expectations and federal laws that require minimum on-time performance by passenger service,” CSX said in a statement.

The statement said the figure was arrived at by the engineering consulting firm of HDR Inc. working with the FRA and CSX to analyze what it would take to initiate Amtrak service between New Orleans and Sanford, Florida.

CSX said that the cost included additional track, signals, bridges and other improvements, including meeting new federal laws requiring positive train control and on-time performance.

“Those facts have been available to the Gulf Coast Working Group since August 2016, and have been consistently communicated and discussed in letters and monthly meetings with the FRA and other stakeholders since then,” CSX said. “At no time has CSX reached any agreement with the Gulf Coast Working Group about the cost at which new or modified service could be provided, so assertions that CSX recently changed its position are inaccurate.”

In its statement, CSX contended that even with a $2 billion investment, computer models suggest that passenger trains operating on the Gulf Coast route would not be able to achieve federally mandated on-time performance standards

“Without the much-needed additional tracks and other capacity improvements and due in part to the fact that the route includes 17 drawbridges where maritime traffic has priority over rail traffic, the new service would not meet customer expectations nor federal regulations,” CSX said. “Failing to meet that standard would expose CSX to uncapped penalties and unhappy passengers; CSX, as a responsible public company, is unwilling to support the initiation of a service that is impossible to provide in compliance with federal law.”

CSX Management Change Hinders Efforts to Restore Amtrak Service to the Gulf Coast

June 15, 2017

An Alabama member of the Southern Rail Commission said talks with CSX over getting approval to reinstate Amtrak service along the Gulf Coast have gone back to square one.

Commission member Jerry Gehman of Atmore said that since E. Hunter Harrison became CEO of the railroad last March that management has said that the cost of reinstating the service will be $2.3 billion, take it or leave it.

Gehman said that talks with the railroad facilitated by the Federal Rail Administration had whittled the price tag down to less than $800 million.

But then Harrison took over and “ . . . he is not amenable to our interests,” Gehman said. “Their position was fixed and firm. They said we should go back to the original estimate of $2.3 billion, that they would have no further negotiations, and they walked out of the meeting.”

Gehman said the FRA believes that the price of reviving Amtrak service east of New Orleans should be $117 million.

Now, Gehman said, any chance of seeing the service launched by end of this year is gone.

“We understand CSX’s position; unfortunately, it’s a hostile position, but they’ve made it very clear,” he said. “That hostile position is simply a negotiating tool.”

The Commission plans to continue negotiations. “What I left the [June 9] Rail Commission meeting with was frustration, aggravation and ‘how can I become a better negotiator?’” Gehman said. “My frustration comes from seeing the possibility, not the perspective of the railroad. I would not say that I’m disheartened, but I’m certainly disappointed.”

Gehman said a more aggressive posture on the part of the Rail Commission might be more beneficial.

 

La. Governor Favors Starting Rail Service

May 3, 2017

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said he favors providing Amtrak service to Ruston and Monroe and that negotiations are underway with Amtrak and the host railroads.

However, a funding source for the service has not been identified.

“All of our cities, especially Shreveport and Monroe, air service is an issue, bus service is an issue. It’s hard to get anywhere. They need another alternative,” said Southern Rail Commissioner Knox Ross.

The Commission is also involved in efforts to reinstate Amtrak service to Gulf Coast cities that were served by Amtrak’s Sunset Limited until August 2005.

 

Officials Optimistic About Gulf Rail Restoration

April 13, 2017

Amtrak and members of the Southern Rail Commission are expressing optimism that intercity rail service will be restored to the Gulf Coast east of New Orleans.

During a meeting in Mobile, Alabama, they said that efforts to restore Amtrak service lost in August 2005 following Hurricane Katrina are close to being realized despite the proposal by the Trump administration to gut funding for Amtrak’s long-distance trains.

“When we look at the situation of where we are, we are closer now than we have ever been over the course of the last 12 years,” said Thomas Stennis III, Amtrak’s director of government affairs south.

Stennis urged residents of Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and Florida to ask their respective members of Congress to reject President Donald Trump’s proposed budget. “I cannot urge that enough,” he said.

Although neither Amtrak nor the Commission has provided any details about how the service would be funded or when it might be restored, Stennis said that Amtrak CEO Charles “Wick” Moorman supports the restoration of service to the line once served by the Sunset Limited.

Nos. 1 and 2 continue to operate tri-weekly between New Orleans and Los Angeles.

One proposal to serve the Gulf Coast has the daily City of New Orleans operating east of its namesake city.

During a meeting in Mobile, officials estimated that 154,000 passengers would use the proposed New Orleans to Mobile segment annually.

Knox Ross, a Mississippi Commissioner of the SRC, said that negotiations with CSX, which owns the rail line that would be used have been difficult.

“We are working very hard to come up with a number,” said Knox. “It’s a hard negotiation because we are working on their railroad and they own it and they wanna make money.”

Knox said Amtrak matched the $125,000 appropriated by the City of Mobile to carry out necessary upgrades to its station.

He said similar deals could be worked out with other cities along the Gulf Coast city stations that require upgrades, said Knox.

Southern Rail Commission Sets Tour to Seek Support for Gulf Passenger Service Revival

April 12, 2017

The Southern Rail Commission will be making stops this week in Florida, Alabama and Mississippi in an effort to drum up support for the resumption of intercity rail passenger service along the Gulf Coast.

One idea being proposed would be to extend Amtrak’s City of New Orleans east of its namesake city to Orlando, Florida.

Service between New Orleans and Orlando was once provided by the Sunset Limited, but was dropped after Hurricane Katrina damaged the route in August 2005.

The Commission is also eyeing institution of a daily train between New Orleans and Mobile, Alabama, or Atmore, Alabama.

A study of restoration of service is currently being made that will show what capital improvements and operating support are needed to support the resumption of service.

Amtrak Favors Gulf Coast Service Restoration

March 4, 2017

Amtrak is in favor of restoration of service along the Gulf Coast east of New Orleans.

destinations-logo2Charles “Wick” Moorman, Amtrak’s president, recently expressed that support in a letter of the Southern Rail Commission.

The letter spoke of Amtrak’s “firm commitment to the Gulf Coast project, and our interest and support for other projects that are underway in (the) region.”

Until August 2005, Amtrak’s Sunset Limited had operated between New Orleans and Orlando, Florida, as part of its transcontinental route.

But the service was suspended in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, which heavily damaged the CSX tracks used by the train and some Amtrak stations.

The tracks have been repaired, but the service has yet to resume.

“We are committed to operating both the long-distance and corridor services on the Gulf Coast route as soon as the necessary funding can be arranged, and the necessary agreements are in place to implement the service,” Moorman wrote.

The Southern Rail Commission is made up of representatives of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. It has formed a Gulf Coast Working Group to come up with a plan to restore daily Amtrak service between New Orleans and Florida.

The group is also seeking to create a second train that would originate in Alabama and terminate in New Orleans. The final report from the working group has yet to be released.

Members of the working group also include representatives of Amtrak, CSX, the Federal Railroad Administration.

In his letter, Moorman said Amtrak also “strongly supports” the Commission’s efforts to launch a Baton Rouge-New Orleans corridor and an extension of a section of the New York-New Orleans Crescent west from Meridian, Miss., to Fort Worth, Texas.

Moorman pledged to “obtain the necessary commitments from host railroads to determine the capital and operating needs of each service in order to advance all of these important projects.” The host railroads would be Kansas City Southern and Union Pacific.

The Fort Worth extension of the Crescent proposal dates to the late 1990s when Amtrak was activity courting mail and express business.

Trains magazine recently reported that an Amtrak study has found that the Fort Worth train would have enough ridership to make it worthwhile.

It is not clear, though, if Amtrak has enough rolling stock to equip all of the services being sought by the Southern Rail Commission.

Mobile to Use Grant to Design New Station

January 12, 2017

Mobile, Alabama, has received a $125,000 grant that will be used to design a new station for the proposed expansion of Amtrak service along the Gulf of Mexico east of New Orleans.

Amtrak 4The money will be used to create a master plan for the station area as well as an architectural design for the depot.

The station is expected to be built downtown near Cooper Riverside Park in close proximity to the cruise terminal and the Mobile Convention Center.

The grant was awarded by the Southern Rail Commission, which has been pressing for the return of intercity rail passenger service on the former Sunset Limited route between New Orleans and Orlando, Florida.

The service was suspended east of New Orleans in August 2005 after Hurricane Katrina heavy damaged the CSX tracks used by the train.

The tracks have long since been repairs, but Amtrak has yet to reinstate service. The Sunset Limited continues to operate between New Orleans and Los Angeles on a tri-weekly schedule.

FRA Grants Raise Hopes that New Rail Service is Getting Closer to Coming to Fruition

December 22, 2016

The allocation this week by the Federal Railroad Administration of $2.5 million for stations improvements has officials in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi hopeful that intercity rail passenger service between New Orleans and Florida, and New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is closer to getting launched.

FRAThe service to Baton Rouge is seen as commuter service, but the service east of the Crescent City would be a restoration of an Amtrak route lost when Hurricane Katrina struck in August 2005.

Until then, Amtrak’s Sunset Limited operated between Los Angeles and Orlando, Florida, via New Orleans, Mobile, Alabama, and Tallahassee and Jacksonville, Florida.

Three cities, Baton Rouge, Gonzales and LaPlace, will split $350,000 to begin planning for passengers stations on the proposed commuter train route.

The rest of the money will be allocated to cities in Mississippi (Biloxi, Bay St. Louis, Gulfport and Pascagoula) and Mobile for station development.

Some of the grant money is being distributed to the Alabama cities of Birmingham, Tuscaloosa and Anniston for station work on the New York-New Orleans Crescent route.

Officials say it will be several years before the New Orleans-Baton Rouge service could start. Funding for the service has yet to be secured.

A study conducted in 2015 estimated the service would cost $6.7 million a year based on annual ridership of 210,000 paying a one-way fare of $10 per trip.

Restoring Amtrak service to the Gulf Coast could happen in 18 to 24 months said John Spain, a Louisiana representatives on the Southern Rail Commission.

Amtrak extended the Sunset Limited to Florida in 1993, operating tri-weekly. State-funded service to portions of the Gulf Coast from New Orleans have come and gone over the years.

The SRC noted in a 2015 report that the Sunset Limited was plagued by poor timekeeping due, in part, to freight train congestion.