Monday, March 19, 2012

NS slows train speeds between Dearborn and Kalamazoo, Mich.

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Effective March 15, 2012, Norfolk Southern lowered the railroad operating speed limits on certain sections of the Michigan Line between Dearborn and Kalamazoo that handle both Amtrak's passenger service and Norfolk Southern's freight service. These lower speed limits, 25-30 mph, have been imposed to reflect the maximum safe operating speeds for the line, given the line's condition.

The reduction in railroad operating speed limits both has been anticipated over time and is in conformance with existing agreements between Norfolk Southern and Amtrak. Other portions of the Michigan mainline experienced similar reductions in railroad operating speed limits in 2011. Some of those 2011 speed reductions were later eliminated as the result of work funded by Michigan Department of Transportation.

The Michigan Line is currently the subject of an existing agreement that anticipates the acquisition of the rail line by Michigan and the subsequent rehabilitation of the line to handle maximum authorized speeds of up to 110 mph for passenger trains. That transaction is expected to be completed later this year, pending federal regulatory review.

"Until ownership of the Michigan Line is transferred, Norfolk Southern is willing to perform work on the line on behalf of Amtrak or Michigan DOT to address any passenger operating concerns," said John Edwards, Norfolk Southern's general director passenger policy. "This work is not necessary to provide freight service, but if the passenger service providers want to provide the necessary funding, we will do it."

According to Amtrak, these restrictions from previous top speeds of up to 79 mph have an even larger impact than those imposed by NS last year.

"The decision by Norfolk Southern to reduce train speeds on the track shared with the Amtrak Wolverine and Blue Water services will have a serious impact on passenger service, and could cause delays for freight shippers, too," said Tim Hoeffner, director of the Michigan Department of Transportation Office of Rail.

"Last year, MDOT invested millions of dollars to upgrade this line at the state's expense, and we hope Norfolk Southern will bear that in mind and work to minimize slow-downs that inconvenience businesses and travelers," Hoeffner added.

The duration of the service delays is unknown.

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