;From today's T&G.
Apr 16, 2008
CSX: New yard key for commuter boost
By Priyanka Dayal TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFF
WORCESTER— While political leaders continue to point to disagreements over liability as the biggest obstacle to increasing commuter rail service to the city, representatives from railroad giant CSX Corp. yesterday said relocating the company’s 80-acre rail yard in Allston is the bigger hurdle.
In a meeting with the Telegram & Gazette editorial board, three CSX representatives called themselves “fans of commuter rail” and said they are committed to expanding commuter service, as long as that expansion doesn’t hamper freight service.
Transportation officials and lawmakers in Massachusetts have been negotiating with the railroad company to purchase the 22.8-mile section of railroad between Framingham and Worcester in an effort, eventually, to double the number of commuter trains to Worcester. They have said they will not sign a deal that, in the case of an accident, would require that CSX and the state pay for damages to what each owns, regardless of fault.
CSX, meanwhile, says it will not sign a deal that introduces a new risk — passengers — to its existing liability system.
The liability hang-up has caught the attention of federal lawmakers, including Sen John F. Kerry, D-Mass., who has threatened to file legislation regulating freight and commuter rail contracts if CSX doesn’t budge.
Yesterday, Lisa A. Mancini, CSX’s vice president of strategic infrastructure initiatives, said train operators don’t care about liability policies, they simply operate as safely as possible at all times. She dismissed the notion that making the state liable for its own passengers means CSX wouldn’t have incentives to be safe.
Ms. Mancini said moving CSX’s operations in Beacon Park, on the western edge of Boston, to a location closer to Worcester would help free up track for more commuter trains.
“Most of our customers are west of Framingham, but we bring our trains (to Boston) because our yard is there,” she said.
That means tons of cargo go to the Boston facility every day, then tracks deliver much of that cargo to locations west of Boston.
The yard is part of a nearly two-century-old rail infrastructure, and its location made sense at the time it was built. Today the yard takes up 80 acres of prime real estate that Harvard University is interested in acquiring, Ms. Mancini said. If Harvard paid CSX for that land, it would allow CSX to give the state a better deal, she said.
CSX has considered a few locations in Central Massachusetts for a new rail yard, but so far, none of them has been promising.
In response to Mr. Kerry and others threatening to take action, Ms. Mancini said, “That’s their prerogative, but that can’t create the capacity (for more trains). We’d get to an answer faster through negotiations, I think.”
CSX officials stressed that they communicate constantly with Massachusetts rail officials, and said on-time performance for commuter trains on the Worcester line has shot up to the 90 percent range since the train schedule was tweaked in February. The new train schedule is “more realistic” because it allows more travel time for peak-hour trains, CSX and state rail officials say.
CSX attributes less than 3 percent of commuter train delays to conflicts with freight trains, while the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad Co., which operates commuter rail service for the MBTA, maintains freight trains are more disruptive than CSX claims they are.
CSX representatives yesterday acknowledged that signaling upgrades could allow for one or two more commuter trains to Worcester, but did not portray that as one of their primary goals. Signaling upgrades between Boston and Framingham would be costly and would be the responsibility of the MBTA, they said.
“If we add more trains, we don’t want on-time performance to go from 90 or 95 percent to 85 percent,” said Maurice J. O’Connell, CSX’s vice president of public affairs.
If the state purchases the Framingham-Worcester track from CSX, the rail company would pay a fee to use the line for its freight.
Mr. O’Connell, Ms. Mancini and company spokesman Robert Sullivan yesterday said if the sale is approved, CSX would ask the state to help clear obstacles so trains with one container atop another — known as double-stack trains — can travel under highway bridges and through tunnels across the state.
That project would cost several million dollars.
Contact Priyanka Dayal by e-mail at [email protected]