CSX Chief Says He ‘Can’t Be Part of’ Obama High-Speed Rail Plan

Michael Ward, president and chief executive officer of CSX Corp., speaks during an interview in New York. Photographer: Ramin Talaie/Bloomberg

CSX Corp. “can’t be part of” President Barack Obama’s rail vision because passenger trains don’t make money and high-speed trains don’t belong on freight tracks, Chief Executive Officer Michael Ward said.

“I’m a corporation. I exist to make money, OK?” Ward said today in an interview at Bloomberg’s New York office. “You can’t make money hauling passengers, so why would I want to do that? That wouldn’t be fair to my shareholders.” CSX is the third-largest major freight railroad in the U.S. by revenue.

If CSX were to advocate for high-speed rail, he said, “it’s then ‘why aren’t you donating part of your infrastructure to that?’ which I can’t do and be true to my obligation to my shareholders.”

While moving more people by train might make sense for society, letting passenger trains traveling faster than 90 miles per hour share tracks with freight trains doesn’t make business sense, said Ward, whose Jacksonville, Florida-based railroad owns 21,000 miles of track east of St. Louis.

Obama has made building a national high-speed passenger rail network a priority, and Congress has devoted more than $10.5 billion to the program since it was created in 2009. Obama is asking Congress to spend $8 billion on the initiative next year and $53 billion in the next six years, to connect 80 percent of Americans to high-speed rail service within 25 years. Republican opponents in Congress want to eliminate it.

Putting high-speed passenger trains on freight lines is not practical because “the curvature and the elevation of the freight rail” tracks cannot support trains operating at speeds higher than 90 mph, Ward said. Those trains should run on separate tracks, which may cost “tens of billions, if not hundreds of billions” of dollars to build, he said.

New York Dispute

CSX and New York are in a dispute over the state’s plan to provide passenger service between Albany and Buffalo with trains going as fast as 110 mph. CSX will not allow trains traveling faster than 90 mph on its tracks, citing potential damage. Railroads such as Union Pacific, the largest freight rail company by revenue, are working with states to upgrade their tracks for passenger trains traveling as fast as 110 mph.

Ward said another concern for CSX is that freight trains, which operate at 45 mph to 50 mph, may need more time to stop and pull over if passenger train speeds increase, causing increased disruption to its operations.

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