Rep. Barney Frank balks at helping CSX in rail battle

Jay Pateakos

With proposed talks between the state and CSX Corporation in purchasing land and tracks to extend the South Coast commuter rail stalled due to a liability issue, U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., says he will not help CSX in its foreign investment fight.

The rail company is locked in a battle with British investors seeking to unseat some members of CSX’s 12-member board. CSX has asked Congress for a Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) investigation into the British company’s actions, claiming national security concerns.

Frank, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, said he won't go out on a limb for a company that refuses to bend on the South Coast rail project, which could positively impact hundreds of thousands of Massachusetts residents.

Frank and other state officials have lambasted CSX, which owns the tracks in the New Bedford/Fall River area needed to extend the rails to Boston, for stalling the commuter rail expansion project because of its stance on future liability issues.

CSX is insisting that any proposed sale of land and rails to the state be contingent on indemnifying CSX from future personal injury or loss of life claims, even if the company is found at fault.

“Why do I want to protect their right to screw my state? Given how uncooperative CSX has been on the commuter rail liability question, I see no reason to help them out with their foreign investment problem,” Frank said. “Their position that, as owners of the rail lines, they will not accept liability for loss of life even if it’s their fault, is creating a major obstacle to continued progress on the commuter project. I am unwilling to assist them when they have been so unreasonable about a crucial matter affecting my constituents and the citizens of Massachusetts.”

Although the company would sell the tracks and land to the state, CSX would still maintain use of the tracks for its own transportation needs, which is at the root of the liability issue.

Under CSX’s proposed no-fault arrangement, if one of the MBTA’s commuter-rail trains crashed and CSX were determined to be at fault, the company would only be liable for train and track damage, not for passenger injuries or deaths.

Lawmakers say the provision would protect CSX even if one of its employees was found to have been drinking or using drugs on the job, an agreement that has helped the company avoid huge payouts after accidents in the past, according to a New York Times investigation.

State officials said the no-fault agreement is the final sticking point in negotiations. But no agreement will be reached if CSX continues to push its no-fault agreement, according to state officials.

Worth an estimated $300 million to $400 million, CSX’s sale would involve the Worcester/Framingham line’s tracks, rights-of-way on CSX tracks through Fall River and the South Shore. 

CSX spokesman Robert Sullivan said CSX remains “willing to help the commonwealth achieve its goal of increased commuter rail service while insuring the availability of safe and efficient rail freight service that meets the economic needs of the region.”

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