Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak on-time performance’

Durbin Introduces Bill to Allow Amtrak to Sue Railroads

November 23, 2019

A U.S. senator from Illinois has introduced legislation that would permit Amtrak to sue freight railroads to enforce its statutory preference.

Senator Richard Durbin said in news release that he introduced the bill because of chronic delays incurred by Amtrak’s trains operating on Canadian National-owned tracks between Chicago and Carbondale, Illinois.

The news release did not provide details as to what standards would be used to justify a lawsuit by Amtrak against a host railroad.

“By empowering Amtrak to hold the freight railroads accountable when they don’t follow the law, we can improve Amtrak on-time performance and save taxpayer dollars,” Durbin said in a statement. “For too long, we’ve seen on-time performance decline as a result of freight interference. The people of Illinois — and Amtrak riders nationwide — deserve assurance that they can arrive at their destination in a safe and timely manner.”

Amtrak President Richard Anderson has recently increased his criticism of host railroads and is calling for a legally-binding enforcement mechanism.

Report Says Better OT Could Save Amtrak Money

October 19, 2019

An improvement of 5 percent in on-time performance on all routes could save Amtrak $12.1 million a year the carrier’s Office of Inspector General said this week.

That would include $8.2 million in reduced costs and $3.9 million in increased revenue, the OIG officials said in a news release.

“In the longer term, if OTP on long-distance routes could improve to 75 percent and be sustained at that level for at least a year, the company could realize an estimated $41.9 million per year in cost savings, and a one-time savings of $336 million by reducing equipment replacement needs,” the OIG reported.

The OIG said Amtrak doesn’t fully and systematically measure the impact of poor OTP, resulting in limited data to use to determine consequences.

In its report, the OIG recommended Amtrak update its methods of measuring on-time performance so that it can more reliably determine the financial impact that late trains have on the railroad.

In a response, Amtrak said it agreed with OIG’s findings and recommendation.

The carrier said poor on-time performance is primarily driven by delays caused by its host railroads.

The Amtrak OIG’s findings were in addition to savings that the U.S. Department of Transportation’s OIG found were possible if Amtrak improved on-time performance.

The Amtrak OIG report “confirm late trains impact every aspect of our operations, from equipment usage and staffing, to trip-time competitiveness and reliability for our customers,” said Dennis Newman, Amtrak executive vice president of strategy and planning, in a statement.

“Extrapolating the results over a five-year period, there is more than $1 billion denied to our state and federal investors because Amtrak customers are not getting the reliable service they deserve and are lawfully entitled to receive,” Newman added.

In a releated development Amtrak released its annual report card that grades each of the six Class I host railroads based on delays caused to Amtrak trains over the past year.

For 2018, Amtrak gave the Class Is’ a “C” average based on the “passenger experience” of late trains and on-time arrivals.

Amtrak Grades Host Railroads for OT Performance

March 15, 2019

Amtrak’s latest host railroads “report card” was a mixed bag ranging an A for Canadian Pacific to an F to Norfolk Southern.

The national passenger carrier grades its host railroads for how well it perceives they are doing at dispatching its trains on time.

Canadian Pacific received the only A grade, which Amtrak said means most of its trains arrived on time at their destinations.

Other grades included a B for BNSF, a B- for CSX and Union Pacific and a D- for Canadian National.

Amtrak said an A grade means most passengers arrive on time; a B means passengers on some routes are late; a C means many passengers are very late; a D means most passengers are very late and an F means the majority of passengers are severely late.

The carrier said its host freight railroads are the “single largest cause of delays to Amtrak customers,” amounting to 1.2 million minutes last year.

AAR Appeals to U.S. High Court

February 4, 2019

The Association of American Railroads is again asking a court to invalidate a rule making process pertaining to on-time standards for Amtrak trains.

The railroad trade association last week asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn an appeals court decision issued last summer that upheld a federal law allowing Amtrak and the Federal Railroad Administration to set on-time standards for the carrier’s host railroads.

The 2-1 decision by the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit found that a lower court erred in invalidating parts of the 2008 Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act.

The appeals court agreed that the U.S. Surface Transportation Board can set and enforce on-time standards.

AAR took its appeal to the Supreme Court after the full DC Circuit Court of Appeals declined to review the decision by the three-judge panel.

The trade group has argued that Amtrak is a for-profit corporation and giving it authority to work with the FRA to set OTP standards gives it an unfair competitive advantage over its host railroads.

That interpretation gained currency when the Eighth Circuit interpreted the law as meaning that Amtrak “competes” with its host railroads for track space.

Amendment Seeks Amtrak OT Study

July 30, 2018

An amendment directing Amtrak’s inspector general to update an earlier audit of Amtrak’s on-time performance has been approved by the U.S. Senate.

The amendment was sponsored by Senator Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) and approved as part of appropriations legislation being considered by the Senate.

In a news release, Durbin said the audit’s objective is to assess the financial impact of Amtrak’s on-time performance.

Durbin noted that during 2017 Amtrak’s long-distance trains were on time at stations just 45 percent of the time. Amtrak trains incurred more than 17,000 hours of delay due to freight trains on host railroads, which was a 35 percent increase over 2016.

“On-time performance has a direct impact on the number of people who ride Amtrak trains, how frequently they use them and how much they use them,” Durbin said on the Senate floor.

Amtrak said in a statement that it appreciates the bipartisan effort to bring more transparency to this topic.

“On-time performance is one of the biggest factors in Amtrak customer satisfaction and has been an ongoing challenge,” the Amtrak statement said. “We look forward to the report from the inspector general.”

Appeals Court Allows FRA to Set On-Time Standards

July 20, 2018

The struggle to create on-time standards for Amtrak took another turn on Friday when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia voted 2-1 in favor of allowing the Federal Railroad Administration to set those standards.

The decision followed earlier setbacks including one in which the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the Surface Transportation Board had exceeded its authority in seeking to set on-time standards.

The legal fight dates to 2011 when the Association of American Railroads commenced legal action to overturn a federal law that allowed Amtrak to participate in the rule-making process.

In a statement, Amtrak hailed the decision of the District of Columbia Court, saying that since the on-time standards law was overturned the passenger carrier has seen continued deterioration of on-time performance over freight railroads driven primarily by freight train interference.

“This decision will allow the FRA to set on-time and other performance standards that would help ensure that our customers and the American taxpayer get the high-quality passenger service they deserve,” Amtrak said in the statement.

The latest decision is not necessarily the last word in the fight. AAR could seek a rehearing by the full appeals court or appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Amtrak Wants Right to Sue Host Railroads over On-time Performance

March 13, 2018

Tucked away in Amtrak’s budget request for fiscal year 2019 is a plea to Congress to give the passenger the legal right to sue its host railroads for delaying its trains.

Amtrak wants to be able to seek legal remedies to protect its statutory right of preference by bringing “an action for equitable or other relief in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, or in any jurisdiction where Amtrak resides or is found, to enforce preference rights granted under this subsection.”

The requests follows setbacks in the lawsuits challenging certain provisions of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008.

The Association of American Railroads challenged the process whereby on-time metrics were to be developed by the Federal Railroad Administration.

Specifically the AAR objected to allowing Amtrak to play a role in establishing the standards.

AAR won that battle when the courts ruled that Congress had unlawfully granted Amtrak regulatory power over the industry in which it participates.

When Amtrak brought three cases against its host railroads, using a Surface Transportation Board metric of 80 percent on-time performance in deciding pending cases, an appeals court ruled that the 80 percent standard had been tainted by the previous rulings.

Testifying before the Senate Commerce Committee recently, Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson said, “We’ve never been able to get the preference right that Amtrak has, enforced . . . and we’d like a private right of action.”

Amtrak is also seeking legislative action to overturn a law that prohibits it from hiring lobbyists. It noted that its host railroads and labor unions are able to hire lobbyists.

The passenger carrier also wants changes to streamline its compliance with at-odds reporting requirements from multiple federal agencies, an exemption from Freedom of Information Act requests, and a law that will make it a federal crime to assault an Amtrak crew member.

Supreme Court Won’t Intervene in On-time Case

February 27, 2018

The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected a request by Amtrak to review a lower court decision that found the Surface Transportation Board cannot assume regulatory authority that is granted to Congress.

The high court’s decision means that a last effort by the federal government to revive the delegated authority will be decided by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

In a July 2017 decision, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals decided that the STB lacked the authority to establish regulatory standards for “on-time performance” in exercising its power to require freight railroads to give “preference” to Amtrak trains. See, Union Pacific Railroad Co. v. Surface Transportation Board, 863 F.3d 816 (8th Cir. 2017).

The Union Pacific case was one of two in which courts considered challenges to a portion of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008.

That law delegated to the Federal Railroad Administration and Amtrak the joint power to establish metrics and standards to define “on-time performance,” and gave the STB power to penalize railroads that fail to meet the standards.

The other case was Association of American Railroads vs. U.S. Department of Transportation.

In the latter case, the railroad trade organization challenged the joint FRA/Amtrak authority as an unconstitutional delegation of governmental power to Amtrak because it is a for profit entity.

The appellate court in that case sided with the AAR, ruling that the law constituted a violation of the Fifth Amendment’s due process clause to give Amtrak, “an economically self-interested actor,” the power to regulate its competitors.

Following that decision, the STB sought to establish the on-time standards itself, which led to the Union Pacific case.

The district court in Washington has set oral arguments for March 5 in what remains of the AAR case.

During that hearing, the federal government and Amtrak will be seeking to have the court reinstate the joint rule-making authority of the FRA and Amtrak by narrowing the court’s previous decision and striking down only a portion of the offending PRIIA provision.

Moorman Looks Back on Amtrak Tenure

December 5, 2017

You could say that Amtrak co-CEO Charles “Wick” Moorman is a big fan of his fellow CEO Richard Anderson.

Moorman

“We really hit a home run in that Richard Anderson agreed to come on board,” Moorman said during a speech last week at the RailTrends 2017 conference.

Moorman cited Anderson’s leadership skills, saying Amtrak needs his aggressive nature.

During his presentation, Moorman also said Amtrak has made progress in such areas as safety, maintenance and customer service.

The former CEO of Norfolk Southern also singled out the passenger carrier’s new chief financial officer, William Feidt, who Moorman said has brought discipline to Amtrak that was lacking.

Moorman said Chief Marketing Officer Tim Griffin understands marketing a passenger service as well as revenue and yield management. “We have a first-rate management team now,” Moorman said.

Griffin and Anderson have both worked in the airline industry with Anderson having been a former CEO at Delta Air Lines.

Moorman, who will leave Amtrak soon, said that although the passenger carrier is developing a better safety culture, it continues to trail Class I railroads in those efforts.

He also said that Amtrak has a spotty record in delivering on capital projects

Amtrak needs to be a better steward of its assets, including its rolling stock and facilities.

“Shabby chic can be fashionable, but not on a passenger train or in a train station,” Moorman said.

Pointing out that much of Amtrak’s equipment had a worn-out feel to it, Moorman directed the interiors of Amfleet I cars to be refurbished after he learned that it would be relatively inexpensive.

In time, the refurbishment program will be extended to cars used on long-distance trains.

One lesson that Moorman said he learned from Anderson from the airline industry is to consistently upgrade the interiors that passengers see.

“You don’t want to know how many 40-year-old airplanes you’ve flown,” Moorman said.

In fiscal year 2017, which ended on Sept. 30, Amtrak reduced its operating loss to just under $200 million, which covers 95 percent of its expenses. Moorman said the goal is to reduce the operating loss to zero.

It will seek to do that by bumping up ridership and revenue. However, he said that will be a challenge to achieve if the current less than desirable on-time performance means that Amtrak service is unreliable.

Moorman said a two- or three-hour delay for a freight train doesn’t mean much, but is unacceptable for a passenger train.

He said Amtrak and its host freight railroads need to work more closely to reduce delays while the freight railroads need to realize that to a certain extent the public’s perception of American railroading is shaped by Amtrak and the level of service it provides.

Appeals Court Strikes down STB On-time Standards

July 17, 2017

Another federal court has struck a blow at the efforts of the U.S. Surface Transportation Board to establish on-time standards for Amtrak trains.

The Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found the STB standards to be unconstitutional, saying that the STB had “exceeded its authority” in creating the standards.

The appeal court ruling came in the wake of a similar U.S. Supreme Court ruling that development of on-time metrics by the Federal Railroad Administration and Amtrak as directed by Section 207 of 2008’s Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act was unconstitutional.

In the Eighth Circuit ruling, Chief Judge Lavenski R. Smith acknowledged that the absence of such on-time standards would make it impossible for the STB to investigate or adjudicate disputes brought by Amtrak against host railroads in the event that punctuality fell below 80 percent for two consecutive quarters.

However, the court in essence decided that the STB’s inability to measure on time performance is not a problem for the judiciary to solve.

There are two cases pending before the STB in which Amtrak alleges that host railroads needlessly delayed Amtrak trains.

One case involve the handling by Canadian National of the Saluki and Illini between Chicago and Carbondale, Illinois, while the other regards Norfolk Southern’s handling of the Capitol Limited west of Pittsburgh.

In both cases, Amtrak contends that dispatching decisions made by the host railroads are delaying its trains.

The STB had contended that it had the legal right to establish on-time standards “by virtue of its authority to adjudicate complaints brought by Amtrak. Any other result would gut the remedial scheme, a result Congress clearly did not intend.”

Supporting the STB’s position were 13 intervenors, including the National Association of Railroad Passengers and its state affiliates along with the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

Challenging the STB were Union Pacific, CSX, CN and the Association of American Railroads.

They argued that the “gap-filling rationale does not allow one agency to assume the authority expressly delegated to another.”

The court found that the only place in federal law where the 80 percent standard was spelled out was in section 207, which the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional because Amtrak had a hand in developing it.

Although the court let stand Congress’ setting a statutory right of passenger train “priority” over freight trains, the practical effect of the court decision is that Amtrak has no way to challenge a host railroad’s systematic denial of that right.

Instead, the only motivation for railroads to keep Amtrak trains on time are the proprietary and confidential incentive contracts Amtrak has been able to negotiate with its host railroads pertaining to on-time handling.

The only action Amtrak can take against a host railroad would be to refuse to make incentive payments due to non-performance under the terms of its operating contracts with a host railroad.

The court rulings do suggest that Congress could give the FRA a mandate to establish on-time standards provided that Amtrak was not a participant in the writing of those standards.