Durbin Seeks STB Probe of CN Amtrak Handling

An Illinois senator has asked the Surface Transportation Board to investigate delays to Amtrak trains and blocked grade crossings by Canadian National.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said the CN has failed to meet its obligations associated with the 2009 acquisition of the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Railway. Durbin asked the STB to investigate the causes of Amtrak delays and enforce on-time performance standards

As a result of “CN’s obstructions and delays,” Amtrak trains along the Chicago-Champaign-Carbondale route  arrived on time only 54 percent of the time during the past fiscal year, one of the worst-performing corridors in the nation, the senator said in a news release. Durbin also claimed there were a record number of blocked crossings resulting from unit trains – some of which transport crude oil and ethanol – through such suburban Chicago communities as Barrington and Aurora.

There were 5,267 instances of crossings being blocked by trains for 10 minutes or more in the first quarter, the highest number since CN took ownership of the line, the senator wrote. “I am disappointed … that I continue to hear reports of CN’s unwillingness to meet its most basic obligations in delivering safe and reliable rail service in Illinois,” Durbin said. “CN has failed communities across Illinois, from the suburbs of Chicago that have experienced a record number of blocked rail crossings to towns in Central and Southern Illinois that must face repeated delays in Amtrak service.”

The STB established an oversight period of five years to monitor the operational and environmental impacts of the EJ&E acquisition.

Durbin asked the board to extend the oversight period to ensure that the issues are addressed. In June, Durbin wrote to CN President and Chief Executive Officer Claude Mongeau asking the railroad to address what he believes are ongoing safety and traffic issues.

Mongeau replied with a letter stating that as the weather improved, so did CN’s operations. CN and other Chicago-area railroads were coping with operational challenges and delays due to harsh winter conditions, Mongeau wrote.

With regard to Amtrak service, CN hosts three pairs of Amtrak trains between Chicago and Carbondale each day. Since winter ended, the Illini and Saluki on-time performances have improved significantly with some trains’ contractual performance reaching 90 percent or more in May and June, Mongeau said.

Per the contract, CN must operate the trains between Carbondale and Chicago in an agreed amount of run time. The route also hosts the City of New Orleans.

“Under that contact, CN’s on-time performance is measured based on whether the train moves across the CN route in the pre-set number of minutes. So far this fiscal year, from October to July, CN’s on-time performance under that contract for the two Saluki trains is 84 and 82 percent, and for the two Illini trains is 61 and 82 percent,” said Mongeau.

“Additionally, CN has provided the state of Illinois and Amtrak several proposals for infrastructure investments to add capacity and reduce passenger delays, particularly for the Illini, on this busy and congested freight corridor.”


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