Regional Rail Program
Background on the Rail Corridor Working Group
Rail corridors offer great economic opportunities to the communities they serve. They also present safety challenges as they intersect with the movement of people and vehicles. Several issues come to mind:
- Land development in proximity to train stations should incorporate TOD principles
- Development along the corridors should be multi-modal, supporting all travelers
- Noise mitigation may need to be considered to limit neighborhood impacts
- Rail operations and intersecting traffic should function without incident
The Working Group has been formed to evaluate the Mississippi Gulf Coast’s rail corridors. This group will be our region’s technical team discussing development needs and improvement opportunities across the three coastal counties. The group may decide to address several issues related to our rail corridors and sub-committees may be formed to research and focus on specific topic areas. Meetings will be called as the group decides they are needed.
September 26, 2016 Meeting
The focus of the first meeting was on the CSX corridor spanning the entire region. Plans are underway to bring daily passenger rail service to the coast which raised several questions, one of which was “would the high number of at-grade crossings jeopardize the return of the passenger train?” The answer is no, the passenger train can operate on the rail with at-grade crossings.
However, the goal is to operate an efficient and safe rail system that includes both freight and passenger services. This can be difficult to attain when there are 128 at-grade crossings from Waveland to Moss Point, and not all of them are outfitted with full signalization and crossing gates. Accidents, some resulting in fatalities, are continuing to occur. A minor incident with rail is expensive to resolve and disruptive to travel; an accident involving injury or a fatality is devastating for everyone involved.
The effort to bring passenger rail to the Gulf Coast has generated a lot of local enthusiasm and there is a strong coalition of partners at the federal, state and local levels. CSX and Amtrak are working closely with the Federal Rail Administration (FRA) Working Group to lay out a plan that will allow Amtrak to initiate passenger service from Louisiana to Florida. This level of cooperation and communication between the parties has afforded the perfect opportunity to broach the subject of securing and improving our crossings, including evaluating crossings for closure.
At the first meeting, the group was in agreement on the need to close crossings, but the process and cost of closing crossings had to be further discussed. CSX would like to see a regional approach to prioritize crossings that could be closed and to identify where improvements need to be made. In other areas of the country, a bank of closure credits has proven effective in the negotiation for new crossings or creating connecting roads between crossings.
Discussion also included concerns about the working relationship between the cities and counties with CSX, specifically with regard to the maintenance of the crossings, responsibilities of each party and overall communication between CSX and the local governments.
Stephen Curlee, Manager, CSX Community Affairs and Safety, and Jacob Smith, CSX Project Manager, Public Projects, explained that CSX has an agreement with every jurisdiction. In fact, there is an agreement for each crossing that details the work of CSX to maintain the tracks and facilities along the line and the municipality’s role in the maintenance process.
On communications, the multiplicity of cities and counties along the CSX line has made communication between CSX and the locals somewhat difficult and not always effective. It was decided that there should be a primary point of contact (plus a secondary POC) for CSX to notify when work is scheduled and at which location within a community.
The meeting was productive. Several action items have been defined and certain issues will require on-going discussions and negotiation with CSX. The next meeting on crossings will follow up on these issues:
- Regional prioritization of crossings for closure and improvements
- Point of contacts for communication with CSX and the local governments
- Collection of crossing agreements and a framework to review them for project-level negotiation
Members of the Rail Corridor Working Group listening to representatives from CSX explain the agreements that are in place for maintenance at railroad crossings.
Jacob Smith and Stephen Curlee, CSX, (on left) and members of the group listen to discussion on the impact of heightening the rail bed on the crossing road.