During a public hearing this week Illinois Senator Dick Durbin said Amtrak’s on-time performance is threatening the success of passenger rail in that state.
“Ridership and revenue are at all-time highs for Amtrak, and unfortunately so are delays. Late trains and unnecessary delays turn passengers away from Amtrak and can slow the incredible growth we have seen so far,” Durbin said.
Amtrak’s on-time performance has suffered the most along the Chicago-Champaign-Carbondale route owned and operated by CN, according to Durbin. The Illini and Saluki trains are arriving on time only 49 percent of the time, he said.
The route is also served by the Chicago-New Orleans long-distance train the City of New Orleans. Also attending the meeting in Champaign were Surface Transportation Board Chairman Dan Elliott and Amtrak board member Tom Carper. Elliott is meeting with community leaders throughout Illinois to discuss the delays along routes operated by Canadian National.
“We’re investing almost $2 billion in federal funds into our passenger rail infrastructure in the state,” Durbin said. “These funds are building new locomotives and train cars that will be used here in Champaign and across the Midwest. We cannot let these investments go to waste due to unnecessary freight train interference. Canadian National’s lack of cooperation with the State of Illinois and Amtrak is disappointing and I encourage them to step up and make the changes necessary to improve Amtrak service.”
In January 2012, Amtrak filed a complaint with the STB about CN’s interference of Amtrak trains on the Chicago-Champaign-Carbondale corridor.
Amtrak and CN have tried to mediate the issue through the STB, but Amtrak’s on-time performance has continued to decline and CN has been more “recalcitrant” since a recent D.C. Circuit Court decision that invalidated Amtrak’s on-time performance metrics, according to Durbin’s press release.
Amtrak has indicated it will seek to reopen the case and the STB to rule on it.
Under its contact, CN’s on-time performance is measured based on whether the train moves across the Class I’s route in the pre-set number of minutes. Since winter ended, on-time performance of the Illini and Saluki has improved significantly as fluidity across CN’s North American rail network has slowly improved, said CN spokesman Patrick Waldron.
“Amtrak’s on-time performance figures recently published in the press incorporate delays not attributable to or involving CN, such as delays at stations, delays as the result of Amtrak equipment problems, or delays as the result of trains not coming to CN at the scheduled times,” said Waldron. “CN has provided the state of Illinois and Amtrak several proposals for infrastructure investments to add capacity and reduce passenger delays, particularly for the Illini train, on this busy and congested passenger and freight corridor.”
In 2008, Durbin helped pass legislation that gave STB the authority to enforce Amtrak’s rights to the rails. Last month, Durbin called on the STB to exercise its authority to investigate the causes of Amtrak delays and enforce on-time performance standards.
Earlier this month, Durbin wrote to Amtrak’s president and CEO Joe Boardman and its board chairman, Anthony Coscia, asking for a study to increase the number of trains along the Chicago-Carbondale line.