Amtrak livestreamed a seemingly empty railroad to show it's being held 'hostage' by freight-train companies

A screenshot of Amtrak's Twitch stream.
A screenshot of Amtrak's Twitch stream.Amtrak/Twitch
  • On Wednesday, Amtrak joined Twitch to stream an empty railroad in Mississippi.

  • The company is fighting to restart passenger service between Mobile and New Orleans.

  • Freight companies argue that the service would "unreasonably impair" their operations.

At Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, there's a set of railroad tracks used by freight trains. On Wednesday, Amtrak livestreamed the steel tracks on Twitch.

Amtrak's goal was to show how deserted the railroad is.

It's the company's latest move in an ongoing fight to restart passenger service between Mobile, Alabama, and New Orleans, Louisiana, which stopped after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, according to Vice.

CSX and Norfolk Southern are involved in the dispute with Amtrak. The freight-train companies say the passenger service's plan to add four trains, or two round-trip trains, a day to the route without making infrastructure improvements would impair their operations, as Roll Call reported.

According to Twitch, over 1,300 people tuned into Amtrak's stream titled "CSX's Very Busy Gulf Coast Corridor."

"We thought about putting up a live video feed to answer the question that people keep bringing up: How busy is the railroad anyway?" a spokesperson for Amtrak told Insider.

The spokesperson said that between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., Amtrak recorded five trains on CSX's tracks. Due to technical difficulties, the livestream cut in and out throughout the day, the spokesperson added.

While Norfolk Southern declined to comment, a CSX representative told Insider in a statement that "it takes a freight train about 8-10 hours to travel between New Orleans and Mobile. Focusing on one point of a line that traverses approximately 138 single track miles, major ports, and Interchange points and then purporting that it is indicative of the operational realities of the entire line is grossly misleading."

"Anyone that understands railroad operations, including Amtrak, would know that," the statement continued.

The dispute between Amtrak and the freight-train companies has been going on for months

Amtrak has the right to access any US rail line under the 1970 Rail Passenger Service Act, according to Roll Call, and passenger trains also have priority over freight traffic, as Vice reported. However, Congress has also said that additional Amtrak trains can only operate provided they wouldn't "impair unreasonably freight transportation."

In a November 2021 joint filing from CSX and Norfolk Southern viewed by Insider (and available to download from Railway Age), the freight-train companies argued that the Surface Transportation Board, which regulates freight rail, should deny Amtrak's proposal to start service on the route.

They argued Amtrak's proposed service would "unreasonably impair" their existing operations. The companies added that if the board approves Amtrak's request, it should require the passenger service to pay for and install infrastructure improvements "to prevent a near catastrophic meltdown of freight operations."

A screenshot of one of the freight trains Amtrak live-streamed on Wednesday.
A screenshot of one of the freight trains Amtrak live-streamed on Wednesday.Amtrak/Twitch

The filing also included a proposal for a plan to make improvements to the railroad that the companies say would cost between $405 million and $440 million, and add a total of 122,000 feet of track.

Amtrak's spokesperson argued that the freight companies are "essentially trying to veto the expansion of passenger service by holding the service hostage to $440 million or more in ransom."

The spokesperson said he expects it will be weeks before the board comes to its decision on whether Amtrak can operate its passenger service between Mobile and New Orleans.

Read the original article on Insider