Amtrak Wants Times at Intermediate Stations Included in STB On-Time Performance Rules

In the ongoing battle before the Surface Transportation Board over on-time performance rules for Amtrak trains, the passenger carrier is arguing that the standards must also encompass intermediate stations as well as endpoint terminals.

Amtrak contends that measuring on-time performance at all stations located on a host railroad is the only viable method of measuring passenger train performance.

STBThat assertion was made to the STB as part of its proceeding in Ex Parte 726, Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on On-Time Performance under Section 213 of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008.

The law allows Amtrak to ask for an STB investigation in cases in which freight train operations deny Amtrak’s right of preference as contained in the 1970 Rail Passenger Service Act that created Amtrak.

Citing STB decisions as well as rulings by its predecessor, the Interstate Commerce Commission, Amtrak told the STB “[T]he only measurement that meets all these requirements is the one that measures performance of Amtrak trains on host railroads at all intermediate stations as well as at endpoint stations . . .”

The Amtrak brief said that incorporating on-time performance at all stations “is the most inclusive and revealing measurement of Amtrak train performance.”

The freight railroad industry, though, has a different take on the issue.

Norfolk Southern told the STB that its proposed rule implicitly adopts Amtrak’s published timetable as the on-time standard.

“[M]any, if not most, Amtrak schedules cannot and have not provided a meaningful or realistic standard for assessing on-time performance,” NS said in its brief.

NS argued for a rule that factors in calculations of “allowances” or “thresholds” for determining if a train is on time.

The Southern Rail Commission supported Amtrak, saying, “the proposed rule for measuring on-time performance is inadequate and doesn’t come close to providing the full picture of the performance of the system.”

The Commission said that Amtrak has been forced to pad schedules to provide the host railroads ample flexibility in hitting on-time performance metrics.

“Much of the padding builds in ample recovery time for the host railroads’ lack of preference for passenger trains, and still arrive at the endpoint destination on-time,” the Commission said in its brief.

The rule proposed by the STB would only take into account on-time performance at endpoint terminals, which Amtrak argued would mean that only 10 percent of Amtrak stations were being taken into account.

It said that would result in an incomplete and in some instances distorted view of actual performance that would not accurately reflect the experience of two-thirds of Amtrak passengers.

Furthermore, Amtrak said, it would leave on-time performance within 24 states unmeasured because those states have no endpoint stations and leaves unaddressed the many routes where performance appears to be above 80 percent when measured only at the last station on the route, but is significantly and chronically less than 80 percent at stations all along the route.

A spokesman for the Association of American Railroads told Railway Age magazine that host railroads “recognize the importance of Amtrak and are committed to a reliable passenger rail service while still meeting the shipping needs of the nation’s freight customers.”

John D. Heffner, a partner at Strasburger & Price, told the magazine that Amtrak’s agreements with its host railroads impose penalties for poor performance and incentives for good performance.

“What seems to be lost on everybody, lost on the individual and lost on the STB, is that by and large today’s freight railroads don’t really have any desire to run passenger trains late because running them late screws up their network,” he said.

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