As Canadian National Railway Co. and Kansas City Southern move toward the merger of the two rail companies announced in April, CN is reportedly trying to address regulators’ concerns about unfair competition by promising to sell the 80-mile line owned by KCS that runs between Baton Rouge and New Orleans—a move that could potentially bring passenger rail service between the two cities closer to reality.
Both CN and KCS currently own lines running between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, which federal regulators have suggested could be a sticking point in gaining the approvals they will need to consummate the merger.
But officials with CN reportedly agreed in documents filed today with the U.S. Surface Transportation Board, a regulatory agency, to sell the KCS line, which would eliminate the unfair competitive advantage the merged rail companies would have.
Though there’s no word on who might buy the line if and when it becomes available, Louisiana advocates of passenger rail between the state’s two largest cities say the deal is potentially very significant because it opens the doors to all sorts of possibilities.
“It is a good deal and it could be really, really important to the New Orleans-Baton Rouge passenger rail,” says Baton Rouge Area Foundation Executive Vice President John Spain, who chairs the Southern Rail Commission and has been pushing for the passenger rail line for more than a decade. “This creates an opportunity to have access to maybe use the KCS line for passengers and the CN line for freight.”
While the state would be a potential buyer, Spain says it’s too early to gauge its interest, though “that would be one of the first conversations you would want to have,” he says. “Even if it’s not the state, though, it opens the opportunity for someone else to come in that we could work with.”
Among the advantages of having a rail line dedicated solely to passenger service would be the ability to offer more frequent service between the two cities, which would make using the passenger rail more attractive to commuters and travelers.
But while today’s development is positive, it’s just one of many pieces that must fall into place before passenger rail becomes a reality between Baton Rouge and New Orleans.
“Canadian Pacific railroad, which also wants to buy KCS, is going to oppose it and other freight railroads are going to oppose it, so it is not a done deal,” Spain says. “It has to go through a lot of bureaucracy, a lot of public hearings and it’s going to take a while. But the fact that they have preemptively said they understand the concerns is a really strong opportunity for us.”