Updated: March 28, 2 p.m. MST
By Justin Franz
WASHINGTON — CSX Transportation and Norfolk Southern have asked the U.S. Surface Transportation Board to appoint a mediator to help the two freight railroads sort out their differences with Amtrak regarding the return of passenger service east of New Orleans.
Amtrak trains have not run east of New Orleans along the Gulf Coast since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which damaged much of the route. While freight service was restored after the storm passenger service was not. Now, Amtrak wants to run two round trips between New Orleans and Mobile, Ala. But the freight railroads have said that shouldn’t happen without major capacity improvements to the line, most of which is owned by CSX. The freight railroads believe Amtrak should pay for those improvements, but Amtrak says such investments are not its responsibility.
Amtrak has asked the STB to force the freight railroads to let passenger trains back on the line. A two-day hearing was held on the matter in February and another one is set for April. But on Friday, CSX and NS, along with the Port of Mobile, jointly filed a request that the STB appoint a third-party mediator to resolve the conflict. If the STB did appoint a mediator, all sides would have to accept the compromise that entity came up with.
On Monday, Amtrak filed a response stating that it did not believe mediation was the way to go and that it was “yet another attempt to further delay a process that has already been delayed far too long.”