By Justin Franz
NEW ORLEANS — A mediator will sit down with representatives of Amtrak, CSX Transportation and Norfolk Southern to resolve differences between the three carriers over the passenger railroad’s desire to restore service east of New Orleans. On June 10, the U.S. Surface Transportation Board announced it would appoint a negotiator this summer to find a resolution in just 30 days. The board also ordered CSX and NS to hand over traffic data so that Amtrak could produce its own Rail Traffic Control study.
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. Multiple hearings have been held before the STB about the case.
Amtrak has long been hesitant of meditation believing that it was unnecessary and that the freight railroads had to let it on their tracks regardless. But the freight railroads have backed a mediated solution for months. Regardless of their past stances, Amtrak officials applauded the STB’s decision.
“Amtrak appreciates the Board’s continued efforts to instill transparency into this process and will work to meet the board’s new deadline,” the railroad told Railfan & Railroad. “We will also work with the mediator the Board appoints and continues our preparations for beginning this service along the Gulf Coast as soon as possible.”