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Amtrak pushing for Gulf Coast passenger route

Special to Long Beach Breeze


Amtrak has gained some access to the freight-owned tracks it needs to begin a Gulf Coast passenger route, but whether Amtrak’s desired January 1 start date will go on as planned is still unclear.

Despite an ongoing battle through a federal transportation board, freight operators have given Amtrak limited access to their properties on the Gulf Coast. The agreement, outlined in letters given to the board, allows Amtrak workers on freight-owned property to survey and prepare for the possible Gulf Coast route. The federal board recently denied freight rail’s petition to have Amtrak’s complaint thrown out.

But the parties are still far from agreeing to operate a passenger service that connects Mobile to New Orleans with four Mississippi stops. Amtrak filed a petition with the U.S. Surface Transportation Board in March, asking the board to step in after years of failed negotiations over the route.

Recently, Amtrak again pushed the board to speed up its decision making so it can begin the route in 2022.

“Amtrak respectfully renews its request for expedited treatment of its application,” Amtrak wrote in a filing dated July 6.

In that filing, Amtrak gave the board an update about the access agreement. Amtrak also included copies of correspondence between itself and freight operator CSX Transportation.

Per the agreement, Amtrak now can access CSX property and personnel to survey what’s needed to add a layover track in Mobile and repair stations in Bay St. Louis, Gulfport, Biloxi, Pascagoula and Mobile.

The federal board recently denied freight rail’s petition to have Amtrak’s complaint thrown out, a small victory in the process for Amtrak.

“The good news is, things can proceed forward now,” said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari.

In its response to Amtrak, CSX still emphasized another study is needed about whether the route can handle the mix of passenger and freight traffic.

The necessity for more studies is one of many disputes between Amtrak and the freight companies that the transportation board will have to tackle in its decision. But when that decision may come is unknown.

A spokesman for the Surface Transportation Board said it does not comment on timeframes for decisions.

Amtrak and the freight rail companies have set dates for discovery, evidence rebuttals and hearings. Currently, the schedule ends in mid-December.

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