“Trouble comes when passenger agencies design routes and plans without including freight hosts, then expect a stamp after the plans are publicly announced,” Wes Lujan, the assistant vice president of external relations at Union Pacific, wrote in a recent statement.
Mr. Biden, a longtime driver who earned the nickname “Amtrak Joe” while serving in the Senate, underlined the issue last month in his sweeping competition executive order, reiterating that Amtrak takes precedence over freight trains under the law.
Democratic lawmakers in the House are also trying to address the issue. Under the House’s version of the infrastructure law, Amtrak could go directly to federal court to enforce its right to go first, rather than file a petition with the Surface Transportation Board.
“This would give Amtrak a hammer, and then I think the freight railroads would say, ‘Oh yeah, okay, we’ll adjust our schedule a bit here, although it’s a bit of work,'” said Representative Peter A. DeFazio, a Democrat from Oregon and chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
In few places is that tension more apparent than along the Gulf Coast.
In March, Amtrak asked the Surface Transportation Board to restore service to two daily trains between Mobile, Ala., and New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina destroyed much of the railroad in 2005. CSX Transportation and Norfolk Southern Railway — the companies that own the railroads — have pushed back and expressed concern about the impact on their freight.
Bryan Tucker, a spokesperson for CSX, said the company was not opposing Amtrak’s expansion, but wanted another investigation to be completed to better determine potential delays for the freight service.
John C. Driscoll, the director of the Alabama State Port Authority, said such studies would likely show that more upgrades, such as additional mainline tracks to prevent traffic, would be needed.