Amtrak, CN Directed to Engage in Mediation

Federal regulators have directed Amtrak and Canadian National to use mediation in an effort to resolve their differences.

Amtrak had sought in late July 2013 to get the U.S. Surface Transportation Board to “institute a proceeding to establish reasonable terms and compensation for Amtrak’s use of the facilities and services of CN.

The passenger carrier sought STB intervention because it and CN had been unable to agree on a new contract.

Amtrak and some Illinois public officials have been critical of CN’s handling of Amtrak trains, particularly on the Chicago-Carbondale, Illinois, corridor where late trains have become common.

However, CN also hosts Amtrak trains in Michigan between Battle Creek and Port Huron.

One major sticking point in the dispute is when to define whether a train is operating on time.

CN wants that definition to be limited to endpoints whereas Amtrak wants it to apply to all intermediate stations.

The STB this week announced that has directed Amtrak and CN to engage in a 30-day STB sponsored mediation.

STB Chairman Ann Begeman will name one or more mediators by next week.

In a summary of its action, the STB said it has asked Amtrak and CN to negotiate an all-station metric because the current endpoint-only measurement reduces service quality for passengers traveling between intermediate stops, which comprise 75 percent to 95 percent of passengers.

Another issue that has had the two parties are loggerheads involves incentive payments and penalties.

CN wants to maintain the status quo and lengthen Amtrak schedules if sufficient infrastructure doesn’t exist to make schedules realistically achievable.

Amtrak has countered by saying it will pay incentives based on achieving 80 percent on-time performance, less penalties that include a metric accounting for minutes of host railroad delay.

The STB has urged the two sides to incorporate a “degree of lateness into their penalty calculation” because “while increasing the lateness of already-late Amtrak trains may not have negative consequences for CN, it negatively affects Amtrak and its passengers.”

CN has demanded that incremental costs paid by Amtrak include delays to its freight trains caused by the presence of Amtrak trains.

Amtrak said it wants incremental costs to be limited to “avoidable costs in the short run.”

The STB said costs incorporated into the agreement must be “specific, verifiable, and quantifiable.”

The STB did not offer any findings on what it termed a difference of opinion between Amtrak and CN as to root cause of delays or how a recovery time base is determined and distributed across a schedule.

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