Posts Tagged ‘U.S. Surface Transportation Board’

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.

Fighting Continues at STB over Gulf Service

April 28, 2021

Amtrak has asked the U.S. Surface Transportation board to dismiss the objections of CSX and Norfolk Southern to a case the passenger carrier filed in March seeking to force them to allow new service between New Orleans and Mobile, Alabama.

The two Class 1 railroads and Amtrak have long been at odds over what improvements are needed to allow the Mobile service to begin.

In its latest filing Amtrak refered to federal law pertaining to use of railroad facilities and providing service to Amtrak.

The law in question, the Amtrak filing said, allows it to operate additional trains over a rail line of the carrier.

The law allows Amtrak to seek an STB order requiring the carrier to provide or allow for the operation of the requested trains.

CSX and NS contend that Amtrak must complete a traffic study begun last year of how the Mobile service would affect their operations.

That study has yet to be completed and Amtrak wants both host railroad to be forced to explain why they cannot host the new Amtrak service.

Amtrak is also seeking to force the host railroads to explain what infrastructure improvements are needed to enable the new service to begin.

The line in question was used by Amtrak until August 2005 when it was damaged by Hurricane Katrina.

At the time, Amtrak suspended operates of its Sunset Limited east of New Orleans.

In a related development U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi) has asked the STB to allow Amtrak to expand service along the Gulf Coast.

Wicker’s letter was sent in response to Amtrak’s petition to restore the service along the coast.
“Implementing twice-daily service between New Orleans and Mobile would provide a huge economic lift to Bay St. Louis, Gulfport, Biloxi, and Pascagoula, and other cities along Mississippi’s Gulf Coast. It would serve as the culmination of Mississippi’s efforts to recover from Hurricane Katrina,” Wicker wrote.

In a contrary position, the Port of New Orleans and New Orleans Public Belt Railroad Commission have asked the STB to complete the traffic study of how Mobile service would affect host railroads CSX and NS.

In their letter, the two entities asked the STB to order Amtrak to complete the traffic control study with supplemental engineering and cost report.

The agencies said they are not opposed to the new Amtrak service but said the study “is needed to adequately understand the impact the passenger-rail service will have on current and future freight service through the region.”

STB Forms Passenger Working Group

April 17, 2021

A working group has been created by the U.S. Surface Transportation Board to develop plans to enforce on-time performance rules for intercity passenger-rail service.

The STB said the group will oversee a rule formulated in November 2020 by the Federal Railroad Administration that established metrics and minimum standards.

In a news release, the STB said Frank O’Connor will serve as chair of the passenger rail working group.

Frank O’Connor is deputy director of the STB’s Office of Economics.

The Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 gave the STB authority to investigate and adjudicate issues related to on-time performance of Amtrak’s intercity service under the new metrics and standards.

Those rules will be implemented on July 1, with quarterly reporting by the FRA to begin the following month.

The FRA rule defines on-time as the arrival of passengers at their destination station no later than 15 minutes after their published scheduled arrival time.

The FRA’s rule requires Amtrak and its host railroads to certify Amtrak schedules and sets an on-time performance minimum standard of 80 percent for any two consecutive calendar quarters.

Under federal law, the STB is authorized to investigate a failure to meet the on-time performance standard, either on its own initiative or upon complaint by Amtrak or another eligible complainant, to determine whether and to what extent that failure is due to causes that could be reasonably addressed by a rail carrier over whose tracks the intercity passenger train operates or by Amtrak or other intercity passenger rail operators.

The STB may identify reasonable measures and make recommendations to improve train service, quality and on-time performance.

Federal regulators may also award damages and prescribe other relief should the STB determine that failure to meet the on-time performance standard was attributable to a host railroad’s failure to provide preference to Amtrak over freight transportation.

The on-time passenger standards have been a decade in the making.

Earlier attempts to create an on-time standard were challenged by the Association of American Railroads in court and the case twice reached the U.S. Supreme Court.

The working group will also “explore the feasibility of creating an office at the STB focused on passenger rail issues and the creation of a Passenger Rail Advisory Committee under the Federal Advisory Committee Act,” among other functions.

Brightline West Expects Work to Begin in 2nd Quarter

April 15, 2021

Brightline West said it is on schedule to begin construction of a high-speed intercity rail line between Las Vegas and Southern California.

It said work would begin in the second quarter of this year but did not specify a date for when construction of the 170-mile line between Las Vegas and Victorville, California, would get underway.

“The world changed as a result of the pandemic, but we continued to work wherever we possibly could toward advancing the ball,” said Brightline West CEO Mike Reininger. “The project remains a very high priority for us.”

The effects of the pandemic on the project were described in a letter sent in January by Brightline to the Nevada High-Speed Rail Authority. One of those was obtaining funding for the project.

In a related development Brightline West has asked the U.S. Surface Transportation Board for an exemption from certain regulatory requirements in order to construct and operate an extended 50-mile high-speed rail line between Victor Valley and Rancho Cucamonga, California.

That proposed line would extend the a previously approved Las Vegas-to-Victorville line..

Excursion Trains Draw Some Opposition From Union

March 19, 2021

A proposal by tour train operator Rocky Mountaineer to launch service between Denver and Moab, Utah, has drawn opposition from a railroad labor union.

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen told the U.S. Surface Transportation Board it opposes some aspects of the service.

In particular, the union is disputing Rocky Mountaineer’s request for an exemption “from virtually the entirety of the Interstate Commerce Act as amended by the ICC Termination Act.”

Although the union acknowledged that some exemptions are appropriate it said those sections dealing with safety, efficiency, and fair wages and safe and suitable working conditions remain relevant, and the company should not be exempted from them.

 “The board has a duty to ensure that [American Rocky Mountaineer’s ]operations are safe, that ARM does not negatively impact safe and efficient operations of [Union Pacific, which will host the trains], and that ARM’s operations are not detrimental to public health and safety,” the filing states. “… ARM should only be exempted from specific provisions that truly do not apply to its operations, and where ARM is truly different from other carriers,” the union said in its filing.

Amtrak, Metra Trade Barbs in Latest STB Filings in CUS Case

February 23, 2021

Recent filings by Amtrak and Chicago commuter carrier Metra with the U.S. Surface Transportation Board show that the two sides remain are fighting  over which party will control the station.

Amtrak owns the facility but claims in its filings that Metra is trying to wrest away control of the station.

The two have long been at odds over a new Metra lease and Metra has raised questions about Amtrak’s ownership of the building.

Metra contends Amtrak unlawfully merged long-time station owner Chicago Union Station Company into Amtrak.

The ownership issue had arisen in 2018 but at the time the STB said it would be premature for it to rule on that matter, indicating it would issue a ruling at an unspecified future date.

Metra contends that Amtrak “bias” stemming its ownership of the station is the basis for many of the ongoing issues separating the two sides.

The commuter rail agency argues that if the STB agrees that the parties would be better served by “balancing public interests” then there would be no basis for imposing Amtrak-requested terms that derive from an entirely different perspective.

Amtrak said in its filing that it must have the ability to manage, oversee, and coordinate service and operations at its station.

Therefore Amtrak said it is seeking clear rights and responsibilities to be delineated in a future access agreement.

The intercity passenger carrier called “not feasible” Metra’s demand that any reduction of the number of Metra trains or revision of peak periods must have its consent.

Metra wants to be able to increase its train movements at Union Station by 5 percent.

Amtrak said as owner it must have the ability to control and coordinate train schedules.

This includes dwell times for Metra trains. Amtrak wants to decree that Metra trains have as little as 10 minutes of dwell time during peak periods, some thing Metra has called “wasteful, unnecessary and arbitrary” because Amtrak has not presented any evidence that the limits are based on operating experience or need.

Amtrak also expressed concern about a Metra proposal that it be allowed to store some trains in the station overnight.

Amtrak, Metra Remain Far Apart Over CUS Lease

February 18, 2021

Amtrak and Chicago commuter carrier Metra remain far apart in their dispute over a new lease for the latter to use Chicago Union Station.

Documents filed with the U.S. Surface Transportation Board verge on contempt for some positions taken by the other party.

A Metra attorney wrote to the board on Feb. 8 seeking to strike a Jan. 29 letter from Amtrak, calling the letter an impermissible, “abusive” and “highly prejudicial” response to an earlier filing in which the sides jointly offered an update on results of their mediation efforts.

Amtrak countered by telling the STB that its letter was substantive changes to a Metra correction of earlier errors, and says it feels “compelled to address the faux outrage contained in Metra’s letter.”

Amtrak said its letter was providing context for those corrections that Metra “should have provided . . . but did not.”

The intercity passenger carrier argued that its Jan. 29 filing was proper, but it will not object if Metra wishes file a full response.

Both sides face a Feb. 19 deadline to file responses to each other’s earlier filing on remaining disagreements.

STB Filings Show Areas of Dispute Over CUS

January 27, 2021

In documents filed with the U.S. Surface Transportation Board, Amtrak and Chicago commuter railroad Metra have listed areas of disagreement in a dispute over Chicago Union Station.

Amtrak owns the station and has been at loggerheads with Metra over various issues.

The intercity passenger carriers wants the STB to help settle the unresolved 16 issues.

Metra has countered that all of the issues can still be resolved through negotiation.

Among the unresolved issues are dwell time for Metra equipment, for boarding disembarking, and turnaround service.

Amtrak wants those to be limited to 10 minutes during peak period, one hour during weekday off-peak periods, and five hours on weekends and holidays.

Metra has described this as an attempt by Amtrak to “impose arbitrary and unnecessary time restrictions on Metra equipment layovers untethered to a demonstrable Amtrak need.”

The commuter railroad would rather that Metra equipment remain at the station as long as circumstances warrant so long as it does not interfere with Amtrak operations.

In its filing, Amtrak said 10 of the 16 remaining issues should be addressed by the Board.

Metra countered that it is willing to accept Amtrak’s most recent proposed terms in two areas with five areas being addressed by the board.

Both parties want the STB to settle procedures governing Metra schedule changes and increases in service.

Amtrak has said it is willing to cooperate with Metra, “but ultimately, a single party must have final scheduling” authority.

Metra is seeking what it termed “protection from arbitrary changes” and opposes Amtrak serving as the sole arbiter of whether a refusal to accommodate additional Metra trains is reasonable.

Amtrak, Metra Lists Areas of Agreement in CUS Dispute

January 25, 2021

Chicago commuter rail operator Metra and Amtrak have filed documents with the U.S. Surface Transportation Board showing areas of agreement in a dispute over Chicago Union Station.

The terminal, which Amtrak owns and at which Metra is a tenant, has been the subject of a long-running dispute.

The joint filing said they’ve reached agreement on such issues as Metra’s right to change schedules and operate special or test trains; Amtrak’s right to review the interoperability of new or overhauled Metra equipment to be used at Union Station; and notification procedures by Amtrak when an event causes disruption or annulment of Metra service.

The document also stipulates that Amtrak will continue to dispatch Metra trains at the station and there will be monthly meetings to review on-time and dispatching performance, as well as service disruptions.

The two sides describe in the document a complex formula for future recalculations of Metra’s rent based on costs including maintenance of way, dispatching, station operations and policing

However, the document indicates that the initial rent figure is among the 16 issues that remain undecided.

The dispute over Union Station has been ongoing for more than two years with some issues having been resolved through mediation.

Amtrak at one point demanded that Metra pay more than $17 million in annual rent.

Metra has been paying substantially less than that, including $9.66 million in 2018.

Oberman Named STB Chair

January 23, 2021

Martin Oberman has been designated by President Joseph Biden to serve as chairman of the U.S. Surface Transportation Board.

Under federal law, the STB chairman is to be a member of the political party holding the White House.

Oberman, a Chicago attorney, joined the STB as a Democratic member on Jan. 22, 2019, and has served as vice chair since Jan. 6, 2020. His term will expire on Jan. 31, 2023.

Oberman has served as a Chicago alderman, a member of the board of commuter railroad Metra, and as a member of the board of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning.

He will replace Ann Begeman, a Republican member whose term expired on Dec. 31, but who is eligible to remain on the Board in holdover status until the end of this year.

However, her position could be replaced at any time by the Biden administration.