Amtrak to Track Train Delays Electronically

Amtrak has begun implementing an electronic delay reporting system that seeks to show the reasons why its trains are delayed en route.

Amtrak Vice President of Operations D.J. Stadtler discussed the delay reporting system at a Surface Transportation Board field hearing held in Fargo, N.D., to hear complaints from shippers about service on BNSF and Canadian Pacific.

Stadtler told Trains magazine that the railroad is testing the delay reporting system on the Fort Worth-Oklahoma City Heartland Flyer and Boston-Brunswick, Maine, Downeaster corridor.

Amtrak hopes to implement the delay reporting system on all route by the end of the year.

The passenger railroad already uses a GPS-based monitoring system to keep track of its trains. That system is accessible to the public on the “Track-a-Train” feature on the Amtrak website.

If Amtrak’s monitoring system detects a delay, the conductor of the delayed train will receive a prompt on his or her iPhone to report the reason for the delay.

That information will be sent to Amtrak’s Consolidated National Operations Center in Wilmington, Del., and relayed to the host railroad.

The thinking is that this will provide accountability for dispatchers and their supervisors as well as letting Amtrak personnel know about recurring trouble spots due to slow orders or rail traffic congestion. Currently, such information between Amtrak and its host railroads involves paper documents sent by fax.

Tardiness has become a problem for Amtrak this summer with systemwide long-distance train endpoint on-time performance falling below 40 percent in July.

Of particular concern has been the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder. Its all stations on-time figure was 9.9 percent, the worst for any train on the system. Schedule padding enables Nos. 7 and 8 to arrive on time at their endpoint number 24.5 percent of the time.

Stadtler said BNSF officials told him that slow orders on the Devils Lake and Valley Subdivisions in North Dakota would be removed in October as six track and signal projects are completed.

Amtrak has been talking with BNSF about a schedule that will be more realistic and reliable than the most recent adjustment to the schedule implemented last April that extended the running times in both directions.

Stadtler said, though, that systemwide year-to-date trends “have shown little signs of improvement” and suggested that the STB monitor the on-time statistics that Amtrak publishes as well as asking the host railroads to report periodically on their handling of Amtrak trains.

Host railroads need to “take Amtrak on-time performance seriously,” Stadtler said.

“Amtrak services nationwide and particularly the long-distance trains are experiencing growing levels of delay on host railroads,” Stadtler said. “If this is not addressed, it will translate into significant impacts to our service, our passengers and our bottom line.

“We want to avoid [delays], and we prefer to address and fix this system-wide problem by working cooperatively with our host railroad partners,” he said. “We do, however, have an obligation to provide the traveling public with the level of service mandated by the statute, and we therefore believe that the STB could significantly assist us by monitoring the statistics.”

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