TIM ISBELL/SUN HERALD The Amtrak Inspection Train arrives at the Gulfport Depot, Thursday, Feb. 18, 2016.

Amtrak has gained some access to the freight-owned tracks it needs to begin a Gulf Coast passenger route. But whether Amtrak’s desired Jan. 1 start date will go on as planned is still unclear.

Despite an ongoing battle through a federal transportation board, freight operators have given Amtrak limited access to their properties on the Gulf Coast. The agreement, outlined in letters given to the board, allows Amtrak workers on freight-owned property to survey and prepare for the possible Gulf Coast route. 

But the parties are still far from agreeing to operate a passenger service that connects Mobile to New Orleans with four Mississippi stops. Amtrak filed a petition with the U.S. Surface Transportation Board in March, asking the board to step in after years of failed negotiations over the route.

This week, Amtrak again pushed the board to speed up its decision making so it can begin the route in 2022. 

“Amtrak respectfully renews its request for expedited treatment of its application,” Amtrak wrote in a filing dated July 6. 

In that filing, Amtrak gave the board an update about the access agreement. Amtrak also included copies of correspondence between itself and freight operator CSX Transportation. 

Per the agreement, Amtrak now can access CSX property and personnel to survey what’s needed to add a layover track in Mobile and repair stations in Bay St. Louis, Gulfport, Biloxi, Pascagoula and Mobile.

In its response to Amtrak, CSX still emphasized another study is needed about whether the route can handle the mix of passenger and freight traffic. 

The necessity for more studies is one of many disputes between Amtrak and the freight companies that the transportation board will have to tackle in its decision. But when that decision may come is unknown. 

A spokesman for the Surface Transportation Board said it does not comment on timeframes for decisions. 

As of July 8, the transportation board had 65 separate filings from stakeholders, public officials and the railways to sift through. 

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