WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Transportation is throwing its weight behind Amtrak’s effort to force CSX Transportation and Norfolk Southern to come up with an agreement that will restore passenger service east of New Orleans.
Amtrak and the Southern Rail Commission have been working to restore passenger service east of New Orleans since 2015, a decade after it was cut due to Hurricane Katrina. Since then, Amtrak and SRC have secured $66 million to prepare the route for passenger service once again. In March, Amtrak went to the U.S. Surface Transportation Board asking that they force NS and CSX to negotiate. The freight railroads have countered that they have negotiated but that they believe more analysis is needed. On May 10, DOT Acting General Counsel John E. Putnam wrote to the STB asking that it “act expeditiously” on Amtrak’s application.
“The Biden-Harris Administration believes that the expansion and improvement of intercity passenger rail service, through efforts such as the restoration of Gulf Coast service, plays an essential role in meeting the most important objectives of our transportation system, including combating climate change, ensuring equity in personal mobility, and driving economic growth and vitality,” he wrote. “FRA has worked closely with Amtrak, CSX, Norfolk Southern, and other stakeholders for several years to make the restoration of Gulf Coast service a reality. Unfortunately, despite an extended period of examination and the investment of significant funds, Amtrak has been unable to obtain the agreement of the host freight railroads, and there is no clear or imminent path to the restoration of this service, absent the Board’s intercession.” Amtrak wants to start the new service along the Gulf Coast next year. In a statement to Railfan & Railroad about the DOT’s letter, an Amtrak spokesperson said, “The FRA’s letter speaks for itself. Amtrak looks forward to the STB rendering a speedy decision.”