The Surface Transportation Board today ordered CSX to let Amtrak survey its Choctaw Yard in Mobile, so that Amtrak can determine whether it makes sense to rebuild the West Stub Track it previously used to layover passenger trains temporarily while the planned Mobile station – crucial to restoring Gulf Coast passenger rail service – is completed.
The order is limited to Amtrak’s survey request, and the Board is continuing to accept motions and replies between now and Christmas Eve on the larger dispute over restoring passenger service between New Orleans and Mobile.
In July CSX offered to allow Amtrak – finally – to survey the Yard, a concession which drew praise from the STB and led the Board to declare Amtrak’s original motion for survey access to be moot. But shortly thereafter CSX withdrew that cooperation. Amtrak has been trying since June to be allowed on the property to survey the track. Amtrak is trying to ascertain whether the West Stub can be rebuilt or if CSX should designate another existing track that could be used temporarily to layover those trains.
CSX earlier this month pressed STB to deny Amtrak’s request, arguing that it was an “untimely” request designed to pry information from CSX that Amtrak should have sought during the discovery process for evidence which closed in October – even though Amtrak moved early this year to get that access and CSX promised the access in July. STB today found that while Amtrak’s request might be viewed as “untimely” in the sense that the discovery period is closed, it is nonetheless “reasonable,” and STB granted Amtrak’s request “in the interest of developing a complete record.”
It's not clear whether Amtrak intends to use the survey results only to prepare for potential Gulf Coast service restoration or might also use the results as part of the evidence it is supposed to submit in reply as part of the proceeding schedule set by the STB last month. Under that schedule, Amtrak’s reply evidence is due by December 3rd, but STB said in today’s decision that Amtrak will have until December 10th to file a supplement to its reply to include any arguments related to the results of the survey.
Rail Passengers continues to monitor this case very closely and to file statements when needed with the STB.