Amtrak is hoping to restore passenger rail service between Mobile, Alabama and New Orleans, Louisiana. The federally-owned company operated on the route until it discontinued operations after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Though, Amtrak doesn’t own most of the track that would be used. CSX and Norfolk Southern, the freight railroads that control most of the route, don’t want to allow passenger services on the track despite being legally obligated to do so.
Last week, Amtrak used Twitch, the live streaming platform, to fight the freight services’ claims that passenger service on the track would cause “a near-catastrophic meltdown of freight operations” without infrastructure upgrades. The upgrades would cost Amtrak over 400 million dollars. Amtrak has set up a camera along the track in Bay St. Louis to monitor if the route is as busy as CSX and Norfolk Southern claims while broadcasting the feed online.
Amtrak is primarily doing this to collect evidence to win a Surface Transportation Board adjudication that would force CSX and Norfolk Southern to allow Amtrak operations. The 1970 Rail Passenger Service Act, the law that effectively created Amtrak, ended the requirement that railroads had to operate passengers service. The law also mandated that Amtrak would have priority on the tracks that remained under the ownership of private railroads.
The Twitch broadcast showed four CSX trains pass the camera over a nine-hour period. For most of the day, the feed showed the track empty. The freight railroads claim that one camera at a single point isn’t representative of the route as a whole. If Amtrak wins its case, it will run two round-trip trains each day between Mobile and New Orleans. Otherwise, for Amtrak to revive the service, it would have to spend hundreds of millions of dollars provided in a recent infrastructure bill mainly to benefit private companies.
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Speaking of Twitch, Jalopnik is also streaming on the site each week. We’re not trying to shame freight railroads, but it’s still entertaining.