O'Fallon Progress

CSX Transportation files second petition for discontinuation of more railroad lines

A SUV crosses the railroad tracks at S. Cherry Street in O’Fallon. Last year, CSX got approval from the Surface Transportation Board to discontinue service along 23.9 miles running through O’Fallon.
A SUV crosses the railroad tracks at S. Cherry Street in O’Fallon. Last year, CSX got approval from the Surface Transportation Board to discontinue service along 23.9 miles running through O’Fallon. dholtmann@bnd.com

With the use of other non-rail modes of transportation, the CSX Transportation Inc. railroad line from Flora to Aviston will be under review by the Surface Transportation Board.

After last year’s discontinuation of service exemption approval by the STB regarding the 23.9 miles running through O’Fallon, CSX is trying to discontinue service on more of its existing rail lines.

CSX has petitioned the STB to approve a discontinuance of service of about 60 track miles along its Illinois Subdivision Line from Aviston to Flora, an east-west line that runs through Clay, Marion and Clinton counties.

Looking back, CSX filed the first time on Nov. 20, 2015, for the adjacent line running between Patterson in Clinton County and Caseyville in St. Clair County because there hadn’t been any service for at least two years, according to Louis Gitomer, attorney for CSX from the Law Offices of Louis E. Gitomer LLC in Towson, Md.

O’Fallon resident Brian Keller, who is the O’Fallon Historical Society president, said, “I think it’s sad that the shiny rails have turned rusty and the sound of O’Fallon’s railroad heritage has become silent.

“With this newest development, it seems like the prospects of rail traffic resuming any time soon, if at all, are becoming dimmer. Still, whether the line is ultimately abandoned, sold or just mothballed for the indefinite future remains to be seen,” Keller said.

Abandonment vs. discontinuance

This latest filing doesn’t mean any of the lines will be abandoned, but rather just discontinued, which means “taking out of commission until further notice,” Gitomer said.

He explained the difference between abandonment and discontinuation is important to understand because they entail very different elements.

“Abandonment is to permanently seize operation of a line, with the approval from the STB of course; then, remove the tracks and all associated apparatus and materials; and, subsequently sell the land for another use,” he said.

Where as discontinuance is when a company petitions to the STB to stop operations of a line, leaving the track in place so if there is an increase in business or activity in the future CSX can still serve the needs of its customers.

“CSX has no plans to abandon this line. Abandonment is a formal process that involves further petitions to the STB. CSX is asking the STB to approve a discontinuance of service,” said Gail Lobin, a CSX representative.

Gitomer said, “This is significantly less drastic than abandonment.”

If approved, CSX will continue to perform maintenance and repairs on an as-needed basis.

CSX has no plans to abandon this line. Abandonment is a formal process that involves further petitions to the STB. CSX is asking the STB to approve a discontinuance of service.

Gail Lobin, a CSX representative

Why?

Motivation for CSX’s action is all a matter money.

“The cost to operate is far more than the revenue being generated,” Gitomer said.

The petition states, CSX operated the line until June 10, when the line was embargoed because of the condition of the ties on the lines, and incurred avoidable costs of $606,599 in 2015, and projects the more losses in the forecast year of 2016 at about $1,606,473.

Moreover, included in that are calculated maintenance costs for 2016 estimated to be $543,000.

Opportunity costs of $999,874 in 2016 and rehabilitation costs of ties and other elements in need of repair of an additional $7,020,000 in the subsidy year (2015) were expected, according to Brendan Lynch, CSX financial officer.

Low traffic

The 59.3-mile rail line has had local traffic fall drastically in recent years, so much so that in 2016 there has been no traffic at all.

“We continually work to align our resources in a way that delivers safe and reliable service to customers while supporting overall network performance, (but) sometimes that alignment includes engineering and operational changes to lower-volume lines,” Lobin said.

Lobin went on to say, “The changes on the Illinois Subdivision are one such example, and reflect decreased traffic volumes as well as increased capabilities on other portions of our network.”

In 2014 and 2015 there were only two carloads shipped by the line’s one active shipper based in Breese ProBuild East LLC with it’s single commodity of lumber.

“The continued operation of the line by CSX will create a burden on itself and interstate commerce. The traffic on the line is not sufficient to offset maintenance costs or the cost to rehabilitate the ties, plus, there is no overhead traffic on the line,” Gitomer said.

We continually work to align our resources in a way that delivers safe and reliable service to customers while supporting overall network performance, (but) sometimes that alignment includes engineering and operational changes to lower-volume lines.

Gail Lobin, a CSX representative

ProBuild has used alternative transportation instead of solely CSXT service for years.

“In discussions with ProBuild, CSXT does not believe that ProBuild will oppose the proposed embargo,” Gitomer states in his legal paperwork filed with the STB.

There are local motor carrier options in the area and rail loading and unloading facilities available in East St. Louis.

Representatives from ProBuild were unavailable for comment.

“If customers in the area increased demand for service in the future, we would work with them to restore service or find alternative transportation options to meet their needs,” Lobin said.

Gitomer said, “an exemption would also foster sound economic conditions and encourage efficient management by relieving (the railroad) of out-of-pocket expenses associated with retaining the underutilized line.”

Discontinuing service will reduce a financial burden on CSX of between $600,055 (base year avoidable loss) and $8,6129,929 (estimated subsidy year of 2015 loss from operations).

The documents found on the STB website indicate the original petition was filed on Aug. 31 with a filing fee of $6,700 paid to the STB.

CSX will continue to pay for maintenance of the line, structures and equipment, as well as property taxes costing $58,000 last year.

Robyn L. Kirsch: 618-239-2690, @BND_RobynKirsch

Zipcodes included in the range of service discontinuation are:

  • 62839, Flora
  • 62899, Xenia
  • 62849, Luka
  • 62881, Salem
  • 62870, Odin
  • 62882, Sandoval
  • 62801, Centralia
  • 62231 (listed twice), Carlyle
  • 62230, Breese
  • 62219, Beckemeyer
  • 62216, Aviston
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