Amtrak, CP Wants Conditions on CSX-Pan Am Merger

Canadian Pacific and Amtrak are asking the U.S. Surface Transportation Board to impose certain conditions on the CSX acquisition of Pan Am Railways.

In its filing, CP contends that the merger will threaten the viability of the former Boston & Maine Hoosac Tunnel route that provides competition for CSX’s own New England main line.

CP said most of its New England traffic operates via Mechanicville, New York, and the former Boston & Maine route that is now part of the Pan Am Southern joint venture between Pan Am Railways and Norfolk Southern.

James Clements, CP’s senior vice president of strategic planning and technology transformation, said in the filing that if CSX becomes a half owner of PAS it will have an incentive to downgrade PAS’s competition against CSX single-line routes

“Though PAS’s Hoosac Tunnel Route hosts relatively few daily freight trains, it serves as a vital and unique competitive discipline to CSX, which dominates traffic volumes,” Clements wrote.

“CSX will have a veto over capital maintenance and other investments in the viability of the competing PAS route,” he wrote in the filing.

CP fears that NS plans to divert its intermodal traffic to the former Boston & Albany route now operated by CSX would reduce NS’s incentive to support the viability of the Hoosac Tunnel route.

CSX has proposed having a Genesee & Wyoming subsidiary, Berkshire & Eastern, serve as a neutral operator of the PAS.

But CP questioned whether B&E would be a neutral carrier due to G&W’s ownership of neighboring lines in New England, including New England Central, Providence & Worcester, and Saint Lawrence & Atlantic.

CP wants the STB to require that CSX and G&W keep open all Pan Am Southern gateways via the Hoosac Tunnel route, that PAS maintain the former B&M main line at or above pre-merger levels; and that PAS maintains current service levels, including frequency, transit times, and consistency.

The STB should also monitor the effects of the merger on the B&M and maintain the ability to impose additional conditions to “protect the viability of the route,” CP said.

CP projected that post-merger traffic on the line would fall by about a third due to the diversion of NS intermodal and auto trains and the shift of CSX-Pan Am Railways carload traffic to CSX’s former Boston & Albany line.

Clements said there is a risk that PAS would not restore service if there were another collapse in the Hoosac Tunnel as happened in 2020 when it took almost two months to reopen the tunnel.

As for Amtrak, it wants protection for current and potential expansions of passenger service in New England, noting that the CSX-Pan Am merger involves some routes on which passenger trains account for the majority of traffic.

In its STB filing, Amtrak said Pan Am has cooperated with efforts to improve Downeaster service between Boston and Maine as well as the launch of the Valley Flyer service in western New England.

“In contrast, CSXT consistently has taken the approach of obstructing the expansion of passenger rail, and to limit access to its facilities, despite the fact that CSXT is statutorily required to provide Amtrak with access to its rail lines,” Amtrak wrote. “Indeed, as the Board is aware from the current Gulf Coast dispute, CSXT has a history of stonewalling Amtrak’s requests for additional service.”

Amtrak cited CSX obstruction of an effort to launch seasonal, weekend-only Berkshire Flyer service between Albany-Rensselaer, New York, and Pittsfield, Massachusetts, which would be an extension of an existing Empire Service train.

Amtrak noted that CSX has demanded a traffic study and capacity improvements yet did not conduct a traffic study or require capacity improvements as part of its merger-related trackage rights agreement that would allow NS to divert a daily pair of intermodal trains to the former B&A route that Amtrak wants to use.

“Instead, CSXT now claims in its Application that the entire Albany-Worcester line ‘has excess capacity,’ directly contravening the position it continues to take with regard to the proposed seasonal, weekend Berkshire Flyer service that would operate over only a small portion of the line,” Amtrak wrote.

Amtrak also fears the merger could interfere with proposed service expansions in New England, including linking Boston with Concord, New Hampshire; an increase in Boston-Albany service to two daily round-trips; and increased Downeaster service from Boston to Brunswick, Maine, and a summer seasonal extension of Downeaster service to Rockland, Maine.

CSX has said that its acquisition of Pan Am would have no negative impact on passenger and commuter service in New England.

Amtrak said regulators failed to impose conditions to protect passenger service in previous merger cases and Amtrak service consequently suffered.

The passenger carrier cited CSX’s lease of the Buckingham Branch in Virginia; the split of Conrail between CSX and Norfolk Southern; Canadian National’s acquisition of Illinois Central; and the Union Pacific-Southern Pacific merger.

Amtrak wants seven conditions imposed on the CSX-Pan Am merger including requiring CSX to fulfill all of its merger-related promises regarding passenger service.

That will include a commitment that the NS trains will be scheduled to operate over CSX’s B&A line outside of the Lake Shore Limited’s operating windows and that the NS trains don’t interfere with the Valley Flyer and Vermonter service at the diamond in Springfield, Massachusettts, where their routes cross.

Amtrak also wants the STB to require that CSX negotiate in good faith with Amtrak and its state partners for service expansions, improvements, and additional weekend and seasonal service, particularly on its route between Albany and Worcester; that CSX be ordered to cooperate with Amtrak and its partners to identify what improvements would be required to raise passenger train speeds on Pan Am and CSX routes, then work in good faith to promptly make improvements.

CSX should be ordered to not make operational changes that would result in a deterioration of on-time performance of Amtrak trains and that non-emergency trackwork be undertaken during non-peak passenger periods.

Amtrak also wants CSX to be ordered to provide for the operation of up to four weekend Berkshire Flyer trips in the summer between Albany and Pittsfield within 90 days written notice from Amtrak and without any Amtrak-funded capacity improvements.

As Amtrak was being critical of CSX in its filing, the agency that sponsors Downeaster Service wrote to the STB in favor of the merger.

The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority said CSX had worked with it to address a number of issues, including station locations.

 “As the State Sponsor of the Amtrak Downeaster, which operates over approximately 106 miles of railroad to be controlled by CSX if this transaction is approved, NNEPRA expects to maintain strong and productive working relationships with the host railroad,” Executive Director Patricia Quinn wrote.

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation said it hoped it could reach a written agreement with CSX that would satisfy the state’s concerns about ensuring that the merger does not have a negative impact on passenger and commuter service.

But it also asked the STB to order CSX to turn over dispatching of commuter lines to the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority and to cooperate in the launch of new passenger service west of Worcester on the B&A, and west of Ayer, Massachusetts, on Pan Am, as well as Berkshire Flyer service.

Yet more concerns about the CSX-Pan Am merger have been raised by the Vermont Rail System and the Vermont Agency of Transportation.

Both wrote to the STB to argue that having B&E operate PAS would reduce rail competition in Vermont because it would give G&W railroads “a near monopoly on interchange with VRS.”

“This seems akin to NS having to interchange all of its traffic with CSX to get to BNSF or UP in the west,” R.L. Banks & Associates consultant James Cunningham wrote in the railroad’s filing. “In this hypothetical, CSX would not know the rates under which NS traffic was moving but it would see the commodities and volumes to obtain a much better picture of the overall market. NS would never tolerate that commercial disadvantage and neither can VRS.”

But VRS, the filing notes, would be at more of a disadvantage because Berkshire & Eastern would have access to its rates.

“Choosing GWI as the third party is the wrong choice. It gives the world’s largest short line and regional railroad holding company another puzzle piece in the New England area where its presence is already one of, if not the, largest,” Cunningham wrote. “Other short lines and short line holding companies that have the ability and credentials in the industry to operate the PAS in a truly independent manner. By choosing GWI, CSX and NS have solved one problem by choosing the course of least resistance but creating another which can only be fixed by selecting another operator of PAS.”

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