STB Asks NS for Info on Amtrak Delays

The Surface Transportation Board has asked Norfolk Southern to address the on-time woes of Amtrak trains that it hosts in the upper Midwest.

The letter asked NS how it intends to the on-time performance problems of Amtrak passenger trains using NS tracks.

The STB cited serious delays that have occurred on NS, singling out Amtrak’s Chicago-Washington, D.C. Capitol Limited and the Chicago-New York Lake Shore Limited. Also adversely affected have been trains that operate between Chicago and various Michigan cities.

These routes collectively carried 1.5 million passengers in 2013 on 14 daily trains, an average of 294 riders per train.

Ridership had growing on these routes in most years since 2000, but has since stagnated due to the delays.

Federal law states that a host freight railroad that fails to meet an 80 percent on-time performance standard for Amtrak passenger trains in two consecutive quarters may be fined by the STB.

However, the measures used to determine Amtrak’s on-time performance are currently being challenged in court by the railroad industry. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments in that case in December.

The STB letter, sent on Oct. 6, requested the NS provide information pertaining to:

  • The primary causes of delays experienced by Amtrak trains on NS lines.
  • Locations where delays occur most frequently.
  • Measures that NS is taking to improve Amtrak performance, including but not limited to expansion of network capacity and resources, changes to train dispatching protocols and procedures, and modifications of network operating plans.
  • NS’s expectation of when Amtrak service will improve.

The on-time performance of the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited fell to 4 percent and 16 percent, respectively, in August with the average delay per arrival being four hours.

All Aboard Ohio has reported that most of the delays occurred west of Toledo and in areas where track construction was occurring, much of it in Indiana.

The track work includes installing a third main track between Goshen and Elkhart, Ind., and between Porter, Ind., and the Illinois-Indiana border.

Although the Englewood Flyover in Chicago, which has recently been phased into service, separated the NS Chicago Line from an at-grade rail-rail crossing with the Metra Rock Island District, All Aboard Ohio noted that this project was designed in 2010 to address rail traffic levels of four years ago, not the boom in rail traffic which has occurred since.

Of late, the worst of the traffic congestion has been occurring between Toledo and Cleveland.

Amtrak and NS intermodal trains have had to snake their way around lower priority freight trains awaiting fresh crews.

Some observers have contended that the delays have been made worse by errors caused by NS’s new Auto-Router computer-aided dispatching software.

The Ohio passenger advocacy groups contends that all Northern Ohio stations are limited in their ability to process passengers from more than one track, requiring passenger trains to run against the flow of rail traffic half of the time to reach a station platform.

All Aboard Ohio contends that this “slalom” causes up to 80 minutes of delay per day to Amtrak trains and at least as much delay to NS freight traffic.

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