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Amtrak takes Twitter beef with carriers to the next level

The ongoing feud between the freight rail companies and Amtrak over the restoration of passenger service on the Gulf Coast flared up again this week on social media, with Amtrak appearing to be on the mend. trying to get its freight partners to subdue.

Amtrak claims freight carriers CSX Transportation and Norfolk Southern Railway believe the route is too busy with their trains to handle passenger traffic, and posted a live stream of the route that was largely empty. active, tweeting, “wake up, CSX’s fourth gulf coast train since 8 a.m. just dropped.”

Amtrak wants to restore two daily round-trip trains from Mobile, Alabama, to New Orleans that were closed following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

CSX and Norfolk Southern said they would allow Amtrak to use the tracks if it spends more than $440 million on rail and infrastructure upgrades.

“We are not asking for these infrastructure projects for our own benefit,” said Bryan Tucker, vice president of corporate communications at CSX. “To accommodate the new service that Amtrak wants to operate, this is the infrastructure that ensures that it will not negatively impact the freight service as well as the customers and the community.”

The Surface Transportation Board, a federal watchdog, has the final say on the matter unless either party appeals its final decision in court. The board held hearings this week at Amtrak’s request about sharing about 140 miles of rail with freight carriers.

The dispute surfaced publicly two weeks ago on social media.

“CSX and NS are fighting to stop the restoration of Amtrak service in the Bay Area,” Amtrak Connecting US tweeted on February 14use fire alarm emoji.

“You heard that right,” it continued. “It’s the same freight rail companies that block the three-mile train tracks that want a veto over the expansion of passenger rail.”

It doesn’t stop there. Amtrak also live-streamed an empty train stop in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, along the route, on Twitch.

Tucker called the posts an “unfortunate gimmick” and “a completely misleading stunt,” likening it to someone taking pictures of Interstate 95 in rural Georgia and expect people to assume that’s what it looks like in Washington, DC.

“We are not trying to block Amtrak from setting up new services,” he said. We just want it to be done in a responsible and reasonable manner.”

Congress created Amtrak with Railroad Passenger Service Act of 1970 after many people turned to cars and planes in the 1960s as their main modes of transportation.

According to the Ministry of Transport, Amtrak took over passenger transport in exchange for priority access to the tracks of private railways at an increased cost. Carriers are still allowed to operate and maintain railway lines.

Jessica Amunson, Amtrak’s attorney, said: “It’s essentially a case of Congress’ vision for the national passenger rail system and whether private rail lines can exercise that right. veto that vision by making zero capital requirements.”

“Amtrak does not believe that private railways should have that power,” she said.

But CSX and Norfolk Southern argue that Amtrak trains will cause delays and “immediately and significantly damage freight service without infrastructure investment”, they said. wrote on February 24 submitted to the transport department.

“Cargo service will be unreasonably impaired due to the introduction of passenger service and as a result, Amtrak’s application should be rejected,” the carriers wrote.

Photo: Ship CSX Corp.
A CSX Corp freight train. passed through Anchorage, Ky., on October 15, 2017. Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Federal Railroad Administration, an affiliate of the US Department of Transportation, told the board in February that it supported Amtrak’s request, noting that the Gulf Coast region had not Amtrak’s service for nearly two decades.

“It is the American public that suffers when these services are disrupted,” said administrator Amitabha Bose. “In this case, the delayed service is the denied service.”

Bose added that the Biden administration has placed emphasis on expanding and strengthening passenger rail.

However, Sandy Stimpson, mayor of Mobile, Alabama, told the board he was concerned about cargo stalling at the Port of Mobile, the city’s economic heartbeat.

The port supports at least 160,000 jobs, transports more than 58 million tons of cargo annually, and generates about $27 billion in annual economic output, he said.

“Any action that interferes with the efficient and productive continuity of Port of Mobile operations should be scrutinized,” he said.

Ray Atkins, an attorney for CSX, said requests for new passenger trains are often accompanied by an impact study on freight and passenger services, in addition to a cost analysis.

“The normal industrial process here has completely collapsed,” said Atkins, as Amtrak continued research just a few months before completion.

The Association of American Railroads did not take a position on the matter, but Railroad Passengers Association president Jim Mathews said people wanted Amtrak to be able to use the tracks.

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