Effort to restore Amtrak rail service moves forward as board denies motion to dismiss
BILOXI, Miss. (WLOX) - The effort to restore passenger rail service along the Gulf Coast by January 2022 took a step forward Friday. The Surface Transportation Board denied a motion to dismiss Amtrak’s application, filed by CSX Transportation and Norfolk Southern Railway.
The Surface Transportation Board (STB) is an independent federal agency that oversees economic regulation of rail and has jurisdiction over certain passenger rail issues.
Back in March, Amtrak asked the agency to give access to the rails for passenger service to begin January 1st, 2022. A month later, CSX and Norfolk Southern filed a motion to dismiss Amtrak’s application. The legal responses have been going back and forth for months.
One main point of disagreement has been over the need for a Rail Traffic Controller (RTC) study. Amtrak agreed in January 2020 to participate in the RTC study, but it was not completed by the one year deadline and Amtrak declined to renew the agreement. The company claims a study is not required by law, and both sides disagree over how long it would take to complete.
CSX and Norfolk Southern say Amtrak should be required to “live up to the commitments it made” to complete the RTC study. They point to letters from Alabama officials supporting completion of the study.
But Amtrak also has a powerful political supporter in its corner. In April, U.S. Senator Roger Wicker wrote a letter of support for the project. Friday, he pushed again for the STB to consider the benefits of reestablishing passenger rail service along the Gulf Coast.
“After years of in-depth planning, it is time for Amtrak services on the Gulf Coast to restart,” said Wicker. “I thank the STB for recognizing the importance of this issue by moving to consider Amtrak’s case. Implementing twice-daily service between New Orleans and Mobile will increase access to jobs, boost tourism, provide a safe alternative to highway travel, and reduce roadway congestion. It will also continue to grow the coastal economy as it emerges from the pandemic, improving the overall quality of life in Mississippi.”
In a statement released by Amtrak, the company thanked the STB for its decision to dismiss, saying, “This upholds Amtrak’s right to petition the Board for rail access and sets a schedule for a transparent process that will produce an outcome by the end of this year. In the meantime, Amtrak is working with the Southern Rail Commission to take steps to begin to operate Gulf Coast Service as soon as possible next year.”
In Friday’s decision, the STB concluded that “the proceeding is ripe for adjudication.” To that end, the board set a schedule for moving forward, and appointed Administrative Law Judge Thomas McCarthy to resolve all discovery disputes.
2021 Procedural Schedule
September 20 - Discovery period ends
October 20 - CSXT and NSR opening evidence
November 19 - Amtrak reply evidence
December 9 - CSXT and NSR rebuttal evidence
December 16 - Proposal(s) on hearing format
Once proposals are submitted December 16, the board will decide on the hearing format and set a hearing date.
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