The Board Held Hearings Regarding Amtrak’s Application for an Order Allowing Additional Train Operations Over CSXT and NSR Lines Along the Gulf Coast

On February 15, 2022, the Surface Transportation Board (Board) commenced the initial phase of the public hearing regarding the March 16, 2021 application by the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak) for an order allowing additional train operations over CSX Transportation, Inc. (CSXT) and Norfolk Southern Railway Company (NSR) lines along the Gulf Coast.  See Application of the Nat’l Passenger R.R. Corp. Under 49 U.S.C. § 24308(E)—CSX Transp., Inc. & Norfolk S. Ry. Co., FD 36496 (STB served Feb. 11, 2022).  The second phase, an evidentiary hearing, commenced on April 4, 2022.  See Application of the Nat’l Passenger R.R. Corp. Under 49 U.S.C. § 24308(E)—CSX Transp., Inc. & Norfolk S. Ry. Co., FD 36496 (STB served Mar. 23, 2022). 

Amtrak filed an application on March 16, 2021, petitioning the Board to institute a proceeding and establish a procedural schedule for a hearing on the record followed by entry of an order requiring CSXT and Norfolk Southern Corporation (NS) to allow Amtrak to provide for the operation of additional intercity passenger trains over the rail lines of CSXT and NS between New Orleans, LA and Mobile, AL on certain schedules, with such service commencing on or about January 1, 2022.  Application of the Nat’l Passenger R.R. Corp. Under 49 U.S.C. § 24308(E)—CSX Transp., Inc. & Norfolk S. Ry. Co., FD 36496 at 1 (filed March 16, 2021).  Amtrak also petitioned the Board to, during the pendency of the proceeding, issue an interim order requiring CSXT and NS to provide Amtrak with access to their rail lines between New Orleans and Mobile in order to perform all necessary preparations for the requested service to commence on or about January 1, 2022.  Id. 

In the application, Amtrak claims that, “[f]or the past five years, Amtrak has been attempting to secure access to the host railroads’ rail lines for the purpose of restoring efficient and effective intercity passenger rail service to the people of the Gulf Coast, who lost such service following Hurricane Katrina.”  Id.  Amtrak further claims that CSXT and NS have failed to agree to allow Amtrak to provide for the operation of the requested service, and “the parties remain very far apart in their position on what is required to begin operating the [requested service].”  Id. at 2-3.

On April 5, 2021, CSXT and NSR filed a motion arguing that Amtrak’s application should be dismissed.  Application of the Nat’l Passenger R.R. Corp. Under 49 U.S.C. § 24308(E)—CSX Transp., Inc. & Norfolk S. Ry. Co., FD 36496 (filed April 5, 2021).  The Board issued a decision, served on August 6, 2021, instituting a proceeding on Amtrak’s application and denying CSXT and NSR’s motion to dismiss.  Application of the Nat’l Passenger R.R. Corp. Under 49 U.S.C. § 24308(E)—CSX Transp., Inc. & Norfolk S. Ry. Co., FD 36496 (STB served Aug. 6, 2021).  The Board also established a procedural schedule and appointed an administrative law judge to resolve all discovery disputes.  Id., slip op. at 12.

On February 1, 2022, the Board issued a decision announcing that it would hold a public hearing, consisting of a first phase, which would involve comments from the public, and a second phase, which would be an evidentiary hearing.  Application of the Nat’l Passenger R.R. Corp. Under 49 U.S.C. § 24308(E)—CSX Transp., Inc. & Norfolk S. Ry. Co., FD 36496 (STB served Feb. 1, 2022).  The Board held the first phase of the hearing on February 15 and 16, 2022.  Twelve panels including state senators and state representatives, local elected officials, passenger rail supporters, trade associations, shippers, and other interested parties spoke at the hearing.  See Application of the Nat’l Passenger R.R. Corp. Under 49 U.S.C. § 24308(E)—CSX Transp., Inc. & Norfolk S. Ry. Co., FD 36496, slip op. at 3-7 (STB served Feb. 11, 2022).  The final panel included responses from CSXT, NSR, the Alabama State Port Authority and its rail carrier division (collectively, the Port), and Amtrak.  See id., slip op. at 7.

Pursuant to the Board’s March 1, 2022 decision, the evidentiary hearing was rescheduled to commence on April 4, 2022.  Application of the Nat’l Passenger R.R. Corp. Under 49 U.S.C. § 24308(E)—CSX Transp., Inc. & Norfolk S. Ry. Co., FD 36496 (STB served Mar. 1, 2022).  Subsequently, the Board directed the parties to be prepared to address certain issues and a pending renewed request by Amtrak for access to certain lines of NSR at the evidentiary hearing.  Application of the Nat’l Passenger R.R. Corp. Under 49 U.S.C. § 24308(E)—CSX Transp., Inc. & Norfolk S. Ry. Co., FD 36496 (STB served Mar. 14, 2022). 

On March 25, 2022, CSXT, NSR, and the Port filed a joint motion requesting that the Board order the parties to participate in Board-sponsored mediation, which would mean a postponement of the evidentiary hearing.  See Application of the Nat’l Passenger R.R. Corp. Under 49 U.S.C. § 24308(E)—CSX Transp., Inc. & Norfolk S. Ry. Co., FD 36496, slip op. at 1 (STB served Apr. 1, 2022).  The Board denied the motion, stating that the evidentiary hearing was scheduled to begin in a few days and that not all parties favor mediation at this time.  Id., slip op. at 2.  The Board further noted that, at the conclusion of the evidentiary hearing, any party could request Board-ordered mediation if it appears that such mediation could be helpful in resolving any remaining issues in this matter.  Id.

The Board commenced the evidentiary hearing on April 4, 2022, involving Amtrak, CSXT, NSR, and the Port.  The hearing continued on April 5, 6, and 8.  Since the hearing was not concluded by April 8, the Board ordered that the evidentiary hearing would continue on April 12, 14, 18, and 19, and the Board reserved additional hearing dates in May, should the hearing not conclude by April 19.  See Application of the Nat’l Passenger R.R. Corp. Under 49 U.S.C. § 24308(E)—CSX Transp., Inc. & Norfolk S. Ry. Co., FD 36496, slip op. at 1 (STB served Apr. 11, 2022).  The evidentiary hearing continued on April 12, 14, 18, and 19.  At the hearing on April 19, the Board stated that the hearing will continue on May 9 and 11.

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