Editor’s note: The following statement was issued June 19 on behalf of CSX Transportation by Assistant Vice President for Media & Communications Rob Doolittle.
“A recent story in the Atmore News (“Amtrak Returning: Not So Fast”) wrongly blames the challenges of starting new passenger rail service along the Gulf Coast to new management at CSX.
“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.
“The study, conducted by HDR Inc. – an independent, global, award-winning provider of engineering services – was jointly contracted by the Federal Railroad Administration and CSX to analyze what it would take to initiate the modified service identified by Amtrak along the Gulf Coast.
“The resulting fact-based report estimates that to start the modeled, modified passenger service between New Orleans and Sanford, Fla., at least $2 billion in infrastructure investments would be required. Those funds would be used to install the additional track, signals, bridges and other improvements necessary to allow both freight and passenger service to operate along the line previously served by the Amtrak Sunset Limited train as well as meet new federal laws requiring Positive Train Control (PTC) 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. 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.
“Even with a $2 billion investment, modeling suggests that passenger trains operating on CSX railroad would not be able to achieve federally mandated on-time performance standards. Those standards, new in 2016, require passenger trains to operate on-time at each station at least 80 percent of the time.
“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. 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.
“Another wrinkle in the effort to re-initiate this service lies in Amtrak’s ability to prepare for operations. In a 2009 report, Amtrak estimated that it would require 20 months’ time from when funding becomes available to hire personnel and acquire operating equipment to initiate new service along the Gulf Coast.
(Note: The entire Gulf Coast Service Plan Report is published at https://www.amtrak.com/ccurl/904/671/GulfCoastServicePlanReport.pdf.)
“In addition, the recent federal budget proposal submitted to Congress by the Trump Administration terminates support for Amtrak’s long-distance train services, making it unlikely that federal dollars would be available to support this initiative. The Southern Rail Commission also has acknowledged that the proposed service would lose an estimated $5 million per year, which it hopes might be offset by private contributions from colleges, casinos and tourist destinations along the route.”
(Note: The projection of $5 million in annual losses were cited by Knox Ross, the mayor of Pelahatchie Miss., and a member of the Southern Rail Commission, in an April 1, 2017 story that appeared in The Times-Picayune of New Orleans. That story may be read at http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2017/04/amtrak_trump_new_orleans_orlan.html.)
“CSX understands communities’ desire for passenger train service, and CSX will continue to engage in fact-based, forthright efforts to explore the feasibility and costs of proposals such as the one the Gulf Coast Working Group is reviewing. In considering those proposals, CSX also must preserve its ability to service freight customers, today and in the future, and to provide service that is compliant with all relevant federal laws and regulations.”