The growth of passenger rail lines across the country may not come as great news to the freight industry, fearful of losing track space to people, a spokesman for a freight rail company said Monday.
“Our concern with passenger rail is if they’re on our-right-of-way, that displaces freight,” said Robert W. Turner, senior vice president of corporate relations with Union Pacific Corp.
Turner told the Baton Rouge Press Club that some of the freight most likely to be displaced would be the containers often seen stacked on rail cars. Those are containers that can be offloaded onto trucks, putting more freight on highways.
“I think the way we’re going about it is not really going to bring us much success,” Turner added, remarking on the federal initiatives to expand the passenger rail network.
“We want to make sure that our customers are protected,” Turner said.
“And at the same time if there are opportunities where we can work with passenger rail, we will,” he said.
The Obama administration has pledged to make an expanded passenger rail network a significant part of its transportation plan, pledging some $2 billion in high speed rail awards, the Transportation Department announced in May.
In Louisiana, talk of a high-speed passenger rail line connecting New Orleans and Baton Rouge has been renewed in recent months with the discussion of Baton Rouge’s Future BR plan, the city’s first rewrite of its comprehensive planning document in 20 years. The full plan is due to be released Tuesday.
The passenger rail concept being proposed is a $450 million plan that would use existing tracks. The Future BR plan envisions a rail link from Midcity in Baton Rouge to the Union Passenger terminal in New Orleans with four stops in between.
In 2009, Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration said it would not pursue $300 million in federal funds to help launch the passenger rail service, saying it would be too costly to build and maintain.
Even though the state has relatively few passenger rail lines - an east-west Amtrak train moves across the southern part of the state, while northern Amtrak routes to Chicago and New York depart from New Orleans - Louisiana is well served by freight trains, said Turner, noting all seven of the major freight rail lines go through Louisiana.
“It’s really one of our stronger growing states,” Turner said, noting Union Pacific operates 1,300 miles of track in the state.
The petrochemical industry as well as the oil and gas industry ship massive quantities of materials and equipment via rail, Turner said.
Union Pacific operates in 23 states.
In Louisiana the company employs some 1,100 workers.
“If freight is going to move, we really are a big part of it,” Turner said.