March 29, 2008

CSX Rail Updates - March 24-29

CSX deal shaky as price tag rises 32 percent
TAMPA - The cost of the state's commuter rail deal with CSX has risen by a nearly a third, from $491 million to $649 million, according to the latest Florida Department of Transportation estimates.

"The project seems to be growing in costs every time we turn around and ask more questions," said state Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey. He's one of several state lawmakers who are questioning whether Florida should spend so much money on railroads in a year when needed highway projects are being cut from the state budget. [....]

The railroad company won't sell its Orlando area tracks unless the state signs a deal that frees the company of liability in a commuter train accident. The House Infrastructure Committee approved a bill including the provision last week. [....]

It makes Florida taxpayers liable for harm that may come to commuter passengers, regardless of who is at fault. - Tampa Tribune

CSX freight train hits Boston commuter train, 150 injured
CANTON, Mass. - Investigators are trying to figure out how a runaway freight train car could roll nearly three miles before slamming into a commuter train in Canton Tuesday, injuring 150 people.

The CSX freight car, loaded with lumber, rolled from where it had been parked at a lumber yard and traveled onto the Stoughton commuter rail branch line, then onto the main line where it struck the passenger train's locomotive near Canton Junction just before 5:30 p.m. - Story links

Lakeland softens CSX strategy
TALLAHASEE - The city of Lakeland worked the halls of Tallahassee on Tuesday, morphing from the community that had a train problem to a problem-solver for the state.

Lakeland officials are trying to become a player rather than a spoiler in Orlando's quest for a commuter train system as they press for ways to soften the impact of a plan by CSX to route more rail traffic through Lakeland.

Pitching mostly to the Polk legislators, City Commissioner Gow Fields pushed for separate commuter and freight rails - a plan he said would ease traffic along the Interstate 4 corridor by leaving commuter rail lines near people and rerouting freight rail somewhere else. [....]

In the terse resolution earlier this year, Lakeland asked for an analysis on rerouting trains and the impacts of a new rail hub in Winter Haven. The city wanted the Florida Department of Transportation to get those answers before spending $491 million in a deal with CSX that would buy 61 miles of track for Orlando's commuter rail, move a rail hub to Winter Haven and prompt a shift in the freight line that would bring more trains through Lakeland.

The FDOT has since agreed to do a study on the impacts from the rail center and the feasibility of rerouting freight traffic around Lakeland. That analysis is expected to cost about $750,000 and begin next month. - Lakeland Ledger

Lawyer sues state over CSX deal
TALLAHASSEE - With costs going up and some lawmakers cringing over liability risks, the $650-million commuter rail project for Orlando faces another complaint over its handling by state officials. A lawyer running to be a Leon County Circuit Judge, Mark E. Walker, sued the Florida Department of Transportation this week over a confidentiality agreement it struck with CSX in 2006.

"My visceral reaction is it doesn't smell good," said Walker, whose case says the information isn't exempt from public records laws. - St. Petersburg Times

CSX predicts 'negligible' traffic and environmental impacts from 'mother of all rail yards'
BARTOW - Traffic and environmental issues won't be major problems, CSX officials are claiming in an extensive response to questions raised in January regarding a proposed rail freight terminal in Winter Haven. [....]

The January round of questions sought more details of the project's transportation and environmental impacts. The 318-acre site, which CSX purchased from Winter Haven for $6.9 million in September, is planned as a facility that will transfer automobiles and other freight from rail cars to trucks, which will then transport the goods to businesses throughout Central Florida.

The proposed facility would combine the functions of a CSX freight yard at Taft in southern Orange County and an auto transport facility near Tampa International Airport. - Lakeland Ledger

Plans are laid for enormous growth of intermodal terminal
The projected $100 million facility would off-load containers from trains for placement on trucks headed to distribution centers, said Richard Hood, assistant vice president of CSX Real Property. It will be located on 1,250 acres with two miles of rail frontage, according to Hood, who said it is the first development of its kind east of the Mississippi.

"Primarily at the beginning it will feed the consumer demand of the state of Florida for goods coming from the West Coast ports," Hood said. "As the growth of the Southeast ports happens, like at Port Manatee, Tampa and Jacksonville, there's an opportunity to feed this as a distribution point for goods to the Midwest and the northern part of the country. If something comes in to the Port of Manatee and the destination is Ohio or Indianapolis, the containers could be sent to those destinations and beyond."

"It's one more important tool that we have to market the port," said Steve Tyndal, Port Manatee's senior director of trade development and special projects. "If a shipper in Asia knows that a sophisticated intermodal facility like the one proposed for Winter Haven is only an hour away, that means we could more easily sell Port Manatee as a port of entry.

"Port Manatee is already well served by CSX but the new facility in Winter Haven will help drive capacity, specifically for containerized cargo," Tyndal said. "And that's important because the Panama Canal is expanding and the port is taking a proactive measure now to be ready for when that happens." - Bradenton Herald, Sept. 20, 2007, Port hopes rail brings growth

See also. . . NAFTA rail deal: Whistleblower says it's about carrying cheap China goods

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