CSX: Return Of Gulf Coast Passenger Train Is Not Workable

July 12, 2017

A top CSX executive has told a Louisiana newspaper that the return of passenger rail service to the Gulf Coast — including cities like Atmore and Pensacola — is not workable due to federal on-time standards.

Amtrak’s Sunset Limited passenger train, which included service from New Orleans through Pensacola to Jacksonville along CSX tracks, came to an end along the Gulf Coast due to damage from Hurricane Katrina.

For the past couple of years, the Gulf Coast Rail Service Working Group, the Federal Rail Administration and the Southern Rail Commission have worked on studying the feasibility of the service return. The FRA is expected to soon report the findings to Congress.

The study included the roll of an Amtrak inspection train across the coast in early 2016, packed with Amtrak officials, local officials and VIPs and the media to gauge the reaction to the possible return of rail service to the Gulf Coast. The train arrived former Sunset Limited stops such as Mobile, Atmore and Pensacola with tremendous fanfare as local government have supported the service restoration.

At least 22 Gulf Coast mayors, including Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward and Atmore Mayor Jim Staff, provided letters of support calling for Congress to restore local passenger rail service.  The project is also supported by several regional transportation organizations, including the West Florida Regional Planning Council, the Florida-Alabama Transportation Planning Organization, the NW Florida Regional Transportation Planning Organization and the South Alabama Regional Planning Commission.

But not so fast, says David Dech, assistant vice president for passenger operations for CSX. In a letter to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, he said CSX has a genuine interest in the communities of the Gulf Coast, but new legal requirements now stand in the way of new Gulf Coast passenger rail service.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Sunset Limited rain on time only seven percent of the time in the year leading up to Katrina. But new federal regulations took effect in 2016 requiring that passenger trains run on schedule at least 80 percent of the time at each station.

And there’s no workaround, he said, because there are 17 drawbridge on the New Orleans to Florida route where priority is given to essential maritime traffic.

There is also a requirement effective in 2008 that requires passenger rail lines to be equipped with what’s know as a Positive Train Control (PTC) safety system.  There’s no proposal from the Gulf Coast Working Group for such a system on the Gulf Coast to prevent accidents such as train to train collisions and derailments from excessive speed. Instead, the group is seeking a waiver.

“CSX is proud to support safe, reliable passenger rail transportation. We also must keep faith with the traveling public, comply with the law and preserve our ability to serve area businesses by moving freight safely and reliably.  Two years of shared and committed study, including ideas that involve dramatic spending commitments, still have not yielded a single proposal that would come close to addressing these issues,” Dech wrote in his letter to Louisiana newspaper.

Pictured: An Amtrak inspection train rolls in Atmore (top and bottom) and Pensacola (inset) in February 2016. NorthEscambia.com photos, click to enlarge.


14 Responses to “CSX: Return Of Gulf Coast Passenger Train Is Not Workable”

  1. Randy McGilberry on December 21st, 2019 10:05 am

    I have business in Mobile, Atmore, Montgomery, Birmingham, Tallahassee and Jacksonville As well as other towns along the way. I would use it and it would be Advantageous for me. I just know that CSX can be a vendictive bunch based on my own personal experience with them in the field on construction of sewer lines and crossovers at another work site. That said Amtrak did not turn a profit because of the many schedule issues for being on time. A lot of business individuals like me would use it if timing and relations between them and CSX could loose the attitudes

  2. Jasper McMillan on March 10th, 2019 5:10 pm

    This whole idea regarding a return of the Sunset Limited was D.O.A. from the beginning. Amtrak couldn’t wait to discontinue service along the Gulf Coast before Katrina gave them the excuse they needed. When cleared by CSX to return, Amtrak remained silent. On top of that, Freight interference made any semblance of on time performance impossible.
    Between New Orleans and Jacksonville, it’s mostly single track which only served to compound the log jam.

  3. Baebae on July 14th, 2017 10:54 am

    Did not figure this would happen….would have to be paid by taxpayers…we are already in debt…maybe in another time…..the money is not there

  4. EPenn on July 13th, 2017 3:45 pm

    The infrastructure for commuter rail is failing badly, the trains are generally slow and not very accommodating (they are outdated). When we as a country decide to actually have something worth riding, much like in Japan or Europe, then it will succeed. Until then we get terrible airlines with no option other than to drive a ridiculous number of hours or take a bus which has stops for days on end… Our railroads are falling apart, our roads are falling apart, our bridges are falling apart, etc… and our politicians can only think about their next fundraiser or photo opportunity…

  5. sam on July 13th, 2017 7:59 am

    this area is too rural. transit requires numerous trains running to numerous local sites 4 and 5 times a day to accomodate peoples schedules. it also has to be affordable and cheaper than driving. never gonna happen.

  6. Bama on July 12th, 2017 1:46 pm

    The train would be much like the city bus service in Pensacola, supported by the taxpayers that have cars and never use the rail system or bus service. If it can’t pay for itself it should be abandoned. Drive a car, fly, or catch a commercial bus.

  7. nod on July 12th, 2017 11:10 am

    It would be nice to have a passenger trains in Pensacola I would use it but it probably won’t ever be again

  8. rider on July 12th, 2017 11:06 am

    Take a bus instead.

  9. Jim on July 12th, 2017 9:25 am

    I think common sense won out over emotion this time.

  10. Nana 2 Six on July 12th, 2017 7:54 am

    You’d think they could work it out of only for weekend trips. That would be profitable as far passengers filling the seats, and no one would be in that much of a hurry.

  11. jp on July 12th, 2017 7:31 am

    AmTrack never turned a profit.
    It was highly subsidized by the government = tax payers, most not using it.
    We should reassess the elected officials that are eager to increase the debt owed by taxpayers.

  12. rc on July 12th, 2017 7:15 am

    Does anybody know if the passenger trains actually turn a profit? How many people really use it? I wonder if they also transport freight like Greyhound does to subsidize income. I used to use the buses to get parts delivered to me but UPS and FedEx deliver to the door so they have taken a big chunk of that business now. A train with only a few people on it can’t make money because the fuel costs alone would eat all of the profits. It’s nice for people who don’t drive but need to travel but I don’t see it making money. Perhaps if it could link up with rail service going other places it would be financially viable then?

  13. rc on July 12th, 2017 6:53 am

    Does anybody know if the passenger trains actually turn a profit? How many people really use it? I wonder if they also transport freight like Greyhound does to subsidize income. A train with only a few people on it can’t make money because the fuel costs alone would eat all of the profits. It’s nice for people who don’t drive but need to travel but I don’t see it turning a profit. I believe that the new schedule guarantee law, without a waiver, will drive nails in the coffin of rail service if they are running late as bad as the article says. I suppose it would be nice to have but in the end if it doesn’t make money they won’t do it.

  14. John Moreman on July 12th, 2017 6:46 am

    This train needs to connect with a Chicago. ..Atlanta train. Split the Cresent in atlanta with one section going to Mobile.