Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak host railroads’

Amtrak Sends Wish List to Congress

January 27, 2021

Amtrak this week informed Congress of its wish list of legislative priorities.

Perhaps the top items is an additional $1.541 billion of COVID-19 pandemic emergency relief.

In a letter signed by Amtrak CEO William Flynn, the passenger carrier said the money is needed “to sustain and restore operations and recall employees” through Sept. 30 and into the next federal fiscal year.

The letter did not indicate how much money Amtrak believes it needs to restore daily operation to long-distance trains whose frequency of service was cut to tri-weekly last October.

In response to a query from a Trains magazine reporter, Amtrak said that restoration of service on long-distance routes hinges on certain public health, future demand, and current ridership performance metrics compared with pre-pandemic numbers for those trains.

In the letter Flynn said specific requests for funding in federal fiscal year 2022, which begins Oct. 1, will be sent to Congress later.

In the meantime, Amtrak’s legislative priorities are primarily a repeat of past requests that have yet to be approved by lawmakers.

These include establishing an intercity passenger rail trust fund, legislation designed to overcome resistance by host railroads to service expansion and increased frequency of service, legislation that would give Amtrak a right to sue a host railroad that subjects passenger trains to excessive delays due to freight train interference, and funding for new corridor services

The trust fund proposal is not new. The late W. Graham Claytor Jr. sought such a fund back in the 1980s when he was Amtrak’s president, suggesting the intercity passenger carrier be given funding from the Highway Trust Fund.

In his letter, Flynn said Amtrak needs a predictable source of federal funding for the Northeast Corridor and national network so it can pursue large, multi-year projects and service expansions rather than relying on annual appropriations.

Flynn did not specify what tools Amtrak wants to compel host railroads to approve service expansions, but indicated it needs changes in federal law.

The corridor service Amtrak is seeking would require amending Section 209 of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act so that Amtrak could pay the initial startup costs and operating expenses of those corridors.

Under existing, law, state and local governments are required to underwrite corridor services.

Although Amtrak has told several states that it wants to front the costs to develop corridors between urban centers, it also has made clear that in time the states served by those trains will be expected to pay for them.

Amtrak Host Railroads Push Back on FRA OT Rule

May 21, 2020

Running a passenger train schedule between one station and another should seem like a straight forward process.

Take such factors as distance and maximum speed allowed over the length of the run to determine “pure running time.” Then factor in station dwell times. The result is a schedule.

In fact those are factors Amtrak has used to create its schedules.

But during a recent public hearing conducted by the Federal Railroad Administration over its proposed rule mandating on-time performance standards for passenger trains, Amtrak’s host railroads argued that schedule making it more complicated than that.

The host railroads want the FRA to require rather than suggest that Amtrak and its host railroads conduct periodic negotiations over schedules.

As the host railroads see it, current Amtrak schedules are not realistic because they were set years if not decades ago and conditions have changed since then.

Norfolk Southern told the FRA that Amtrak schedules need to account for “operating and market conditions affecting the railroad, including infrastructure capacity, traffic volumes, traffic mix, and maintenance needs.”

NS contends that Amtrak is unwilling to adjust schedules in response to these factors.

The proposed FRA standards would define a train as on-time at any given station if it arrives within 15 minutes of its published schedule although that would be weighted by the level of use that station typically sees.

A recent analysis of the issue published on the website of Trains magazine laid out some of the various factors in the on-time rule making dilemma.

If Amtrak and its host railroads were forced to negotiate new schedules, the process would likely become protracted as each sought to advance its own underlying agendas.

For the host railroads that is likely to include lengthening schedules rather than contracting them.

Railroads have a financial incentive to demand longer schedules. Amtrak pays them incentives to operate trains on time. It penalizes host railroads by withholding those payments if trains are late.

Typically, schedules include “recovery time” to enable a late train to get within its schedule at some point.

Recovery time tends to be placed toward the end of a route. You can find it by calculating the scheduled running time from the terminal, say Chicago, and the next station on a route.

It is not unusual for the scheduled running time into Chicago from that station to be twice what it is for trains leaving Chicago.

However, in some instances, recovery time is built in around specified en route check points.

Another sticky issue involves routes with multiple host railroads. If a train arrives late onto the tracks of railroad B because of delays incurred while on the tracks of railroad A, railroad B doesn’t want to be penalized for that.

Yet Amtrak’s host railroads argue that will occur if the proposed FRA standard is adopted.

In their comments to the FRA, some host railroads were critical of Amtrak for refusing to show them certain information including passenger boarding information at individual stations.

That is important information, railroads say, because the built-in dwell time at any given station needs to take into account how many passengers it typically handles.

Because passenger counts at any given station are subject to change, host railroads contend that the dwell time at some stations may be outdated given the passenger traffic there and thus not “reasonably achievable.”

Trains found after reviewing the testimony and written statements of the parties that participated in the FRA hearings that Amtrak’s host railroads generally favor a single measure rather than multiple definitions of when a train is late, depending on the length of the route traveled.

Amtrak’s host railroads through their trade group, the Association of American Railroads, challenged complex on-time definitions in court in previous litigation over a section of a federal law mandating the setting of on-time performance standards for passenger trains.

The Rail Passengers Association in its statement to the FRA expressed the fear that Amtrak’s host railroads are playing a long game of seeking to engage in endless litigation and regulatory proceedings in an effort to forestall on-time standards that are not to their liking.

Rail passenger advocates argue that if the host railroads get their way Amtrak schedules would be reset to be so slow that fewer people would want to take the train.

Passenger advocates also contend that without a mechanism in place to penalize Amtrak’s host railroads for their failure to dispatch trains on time there will be no incentive for the hosts to ensure passenger trains adhere to their schedules.

The Trains analysis noted there was widespread criticism by host railroads and passenger train advocates alike over Amtrak’s refusal to share operating information with the public.

This includes Amtrak’s Customer Satisfaction Index. Amtrak argues that information collected to calculate that index is proprietary.

The FRA is accepting public comments on its proposed rule through June 1.

Whatever it decides probably isn’t going to make everyone happy and it could even leave all parties somewhat to greatly dissatisfied.

Everyone involved in this matter has their own agenda and it’s probably inevitable that those agendas will conflict.

Each party wants someone else to give up something that is valuable to them that they are not willing to surrender no matter what “compensation” they may get in return if indeed there is anything to be gained by giving in.

AAR Says Amtrak Schedules Are Unrealistic

May 10, 2020

Amtrak’s host railroads appear poised to argue that keeping its trains on time is difficult because the schedules are difficult to meet.

During a recent hearing conducted by the Federal Railroad Administration, Ian Jefferies, CEO of the Association of American Railroads indicated that nearly all Amtrak schedules are unrealistic and it would be a mistake to promulgate on-time standards based upon them.

The FRA is considering setting on-time standards that host railroads would be expected to follow in dispatching passenger trains.

It is yet another in a decade-long legal battle over on-time performance standards that have involved AAR challenging in court a law approved by Congress directing the setting of such standards.

“The freights’ strategy is clear: Get FRA to require Amtrak to lengthen schedules even more, making passenger rail so trip-time uncompetitive that passenger rail dies in the United States,” said Jim Mathews, CEO of the Rail Passengers Association.

Mathews noted that several railroad executives spoke during the FRA hearings about hard hard it is to run a railroad and keep passenger trains on time.

Mathews also took issue with AAR’s assertion that Amtrak schedules have not been changed in decades, saying that many scheduled have been changed repeatedly.

“On time performance was much better before 2013 when Federal court action suspended performance metrics, leaving the freights with no consequences for running late trains,” Mathews said. “And it improved again when certain railroads had a bright public light put on them last year.”

He said that whether trains run on time is dependent upon consequences for host railroads when their dispatching decisions result in late trains.

The FRA is accepting public comment in the case through June 1.

Amtrak, CN Directed to Engage in Mediation

August 15, 2019

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.

River Runners Suspended Through June 10

June 4, 2019

Amtrak said today that it has extended the suspension of its Missouri River Runner service between St. Louis and Kansas City through June 10.

It cited continued heavy freight traffic on host railroad Union Pacific on the route of the River Runners, which has been the result of flooding in Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas and Oklahoma.

The service suspension has been in effect since May 22. Passengers are being transported to and from all stations served by the trains via chartered buses that seek to operate close to the schedule of the trains they’ve replaced.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said it along with the Missouri Department of Transportation, which funds the River Runners, is continuing to monitor the situation on a daily basis.

UP officials said that flooding has receded slightly in some areas, but a level break  is expected to cause severe flooding at Pine Bluff, Arkansas.

Also out of service for now is Amtrak’s Texas Eagle, which has been suspended between St. Louis and Fort Worth, Texas.

Nos. 21 and 22 continue to operate between Chicago and St. Louis and between Fort Worth and San Antonio.

Flooding in Missouri briefly caused a suspension of Amtrak’s Southwest Chief last week, sending passengers to chartered buses.

Amtrak’s Missouri River Runners use the Sedalia Subdivision between Kansas City and Jefferson City, Missouri, and UP officials have been carefully watching flooding near that route.

Another UP route between Kansas City and Jefferson is closed due to flooding.

A report said the BNSF Ottumwa Subdivision, used by Amtrak’s California Zephyr, had water covering the tracks in Burlington, Iowa.

However, trains were operating through there at reduced speed and the Mississippi River had reportedly crested at 24.5 feet last Saturday.

A breached levy did not affect the BNSF tracks in Burlington because they are outside of the level system used to protect downtown.

BNSF personnel were relaying operating instructions to passing trains via radio because power to switches had been disrupted.

The flooding in the Midwest is the worst the region has seen since 1993.

PTC Covers all Union Pacific Passenger Routes

May 21, 2019

Union Pacific is now operating with positive train control on 80 percent of its route miles.

The carriers said it recently implemented PTC on 582 route miles, bringing required PCT-operated route miles to 13,597.

In a news release, UP said PTC has been in operation over all of its routes hosting passenger trains since last year

UP said it continues to work to ensure PTC interoperability with other freight and passenger railroads operating on UP track by 2020.

In the news release, UP said it completed PTC installation on required route miles and employee training in the fourth quarter of 2018.

Rail Freight Traffic Fell 2.4% in April

May 3, 2019

Rail freight traffic fell in April although the Association of American Railroads noted that it still did better than it did in March.

During April, the railroads originated 1,041,544 carloads, down 0.9 percent, and 1,056,146 intermodal loads, down 3.9 percent compared with April 2018.

Combined traffic was 2,097,690 units, a decline of 2.4 percent.

Six of the AAR’s 20 carload commodity categories showed gains. These included petroleum and petroleum products (29.5 percent), metallic ores (5 percent) and coal (1.8 percent).

Posting traffic declines were crushed stone, sand and gravel (10.1 percent), motor vehicles and parts (5.4 percent), and grain (4.7 percent).

“Rail traffic in April was significantly improved compared with March, in part because railroads affected by severe flooding in the Midwest were able to return their operations more toward normal,” said AAR Senior Vice President of Policy and Economics John Gray in a statement.

“It appears that some of the economic uncertainty that was prevalent earlier in the first quarter has dissipated, although concerns about trade issues may still be having an impact on rail volumes,” he said.

PRR Signals Falling Fast on NS Pittsburgh Line

May 1, 2019

If you are hoping to get one last photograph of Amtrak’s Pennsylvanian splitting a pair of former Pennsylvania Railroad position light signals you better act fast.

The iconic Pennsy signals are falling quickly with Norfolk Southern having removed last weekend the last of those signals on a 131 mile-stretch between Harrisburg and Altoona, Pennsylvania.

Some position light signals remain in place between Altoona and Pittsburgh, but the railroad plans to remove them this summer.

The signals are being removed as NS continues to install positive train control. Many of the signals being removed are intermediate signals.

Wayside signals will remain at interlocking points, but they will be Safetran four-color hooded signals.

In the meantime, NS and Amtrak trains continue to use cab signals between interlockings to show signal indications.

Some of the PRR position light signals had been removed in past years by Penn Central, Conrail and NS, but most of the wayside signals on the 248-mile Pittsburgh Line had been position lights.

Much of the signal work is being conducted on Sundays to minimize its effect on traffic.

The Pittsburgh Line sees between 50 to 60 freight trains a day plus the Pennsylvanian.

U.S. Rail Freight Traffic Fell in March

April 4, 2019

Rail freight traffic on U.S. railroads was down in March nearly across the board.

The Association of American Railroads reported that the carriers originated 957,144 carloads in March 2019, down 8.9 percent, or 93,616 carloads, from March 2018.

Intermodal traffic was 1,065,790 containers and trailers in March 2019, a drop of 1.5 percent, or 16,387 units compared with March 2018.

Combined carload and intermodal originations in March 2019 were 2,022,934, down 5.2 percent, or 110,003 carloads and intermodal units from March 2018.
Four of the 20 carload commodity categories tracked by the AAR each month posted gains compared with March 2018.

These included: petroleum and petroleum products, up 8,290 carloads or 21.1 percent; motor vehicles and parts, up 1,215 carloads or 1.8 percent; and non-metallic minerals, up 927 carloads or 6.3 percent.

Declining commodities included coal, down 64,804 carloads or 19.1 percent; grain, down 11,837 carloads or 12.6 percent; and crushed stone, sand, and gravel, down 8,732 carloads or 9.1 percent.

Excluding coal, carloads were down 28,812 carloads, or 4.1 percent, in March 2019 from March 2018. Excluding coal and grain, carloads were down 16,975 carloads, or 2.8 percent.

Total U.S. carload traffic for the first three months of 2019 was 3,195,609 carloads, down 3.1 percent, or 100,800 carloads, from the same period last year; and 3,476,457 intermodal units, down 0.6 percent, or 19,892 containers and trailers, from last year.

NS Set OR Record in 2018

April 3, 2019

Norfolk Southern said it reached a record low operating ratio of 65.4 percent in 2018 and also touted its strong revenue growth in its annual report.

The freight carrier said its 2018 milestones included a third consecutive year of improvement in the operating ratio, growth of 9 percent in total railway operating revenue to $11.5 billion; and increased income from railway operations 12 percent to $4 billion, a record.

A statement from CEO James Squares said that NS achieved many things last year including reimagining operations through culture change, reimagining service and growth through the use of advanced technologies and “building a stronger company for our customers, our employees and our shareholders.”

An operating ratio shows what percentage of revenue is used for operations expenses. It is considered to be a measure of efficiency.