Image by Thomas B. from Pixabay

I posted about the possibility of rail service between Baton Rouge and New Orleans and it just went from maybe to maybe not.

Amtrak has come out against Canadian National Railway’s plan to buy Kansas City Southern Railway for $33.6 billion, citing specific concerns about a plan to sell a section of the railroad between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. In a letter sent to the U.S. Surface Transportation Board Monday opposing CN’s plan to put KCS in a voting trust while federal regulators review the merger, Amtrak said efforts to address competitive issues “creates a major new impediment” to restoring passenger rail service between the two cities. John Spain, executive vice president of the Baton Rouge Area Foundation and a longtime advocate for passenger rail service, said Amtrak’s statements were part of an aggressive jockeying effort to influence the transportation board. CN has said it wanted to sell the 78-mile section of KCS rail, the only area of overlap between the two rail companies. But Amtrak said CN is proposing two freight railroads that would have the right to ship cargo on the section of rail. The two companies would be CN and whatever firm bought the railroad. “CN’s ‘divestiture’ proposal is the equivalent of a homeowner selling their house but reserving the right to continue to live in it,“ Amtrak said in the letter. “It is beyond dispute that the ‘divestiture’ of the KCS Baton Rouge Line that CN expects the Board to accept would be extraordinarily harmful — not only to restoration of intercity passenger rail service between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, but also with respect to nearly all of the public interest considerations that the Board must weigh.”

AMTRAK is concerned about having increase freight traffic and the likelihood of more collisions of vehicle traffic at crossings, more diesel emissions and inhibiting mass migration from New Orleans in the case of a major storm.

If the board decides to allow KCS to go into a voting trust, Amtrak said it is willing to work with stakeholders to “develop a plan for the future of the KCS Baton Rouge Line that benefits rather than harms those who live along the line, and the future Amtrak passengers who will travel over it.“ Monday was the deadline to submit comments about the CN-KCS deal. CN said more than 1,700 rail customers in Canada, Mexico and the United States, rail suppliers, elected officials, unions and local business organizations submitted letters in favor of the deal. Canadian Pacific, which made its own bid to buy KCS, said more than 300 letters have been submitted letters against the voting trust. Shipping associations, some unions and CP submitted letters. The company said about 1,200 letters have been filed in support of its merger with KCS or in opposition to the CN proposal.

While Canadian National won the bidding war, Canadian Pacific is still planning on their next steps should the Canadian National bid falls through.

CP maintains that competition will be hurt across much of central United States because CN and KCS both operate parallel rail lines that connect the Midwest to the Gulf Coast. The issue is Amtrak doesn’t want to see a freight railroad own the passenger line that would connect Baton Rouge and New Orleans, Spain said. That has to do with a long history of scuffles between businesses that transport people by rail and businesses that haul cargo. In the letter to the surface transportation board, Amtrak suggests the KCS line be sold for a nominal price to the government or a government-owned entity. That entity would provide rail service to shippers.

AMTRAK does want the route between Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

Amtrak wants to restore passenger rail between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, said Spain, the former chairman of the Southern Rail Commission. Earlier this year as part of its new strategic plan, Amtrak released a list of 30 new passenger rail routes and that service was included. “They want this to happen,” he said. Because of this, Spain said he is “cautiously optimistic” that passenger rail will once again connect Baton Rouge and New Orleans, no matter who ends up owning KCS. “We’ve got a president and a governor who support these projects for passenger rail,” he said. “This is an important moment and the stars appear to be aligning. There’s an opportunity for us to see something.”

So, hope remains and since AMTRAK wants it that is a good step.

AMTRAK against Baton Rouge-New Orleans rail service
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