Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak ontime performance’

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.

FRA to Take Another Crack at Amtrak on-Time Rule

March 24, 2020

Federal regulators are taking another stab at promulgating rules to define on-time standards for Amtrak.

The Federal Railroad Administration last week suggested that the rule would set a minimum performance standard of 80 percent.

In a news release, the FRA said its proposal would give Amtrak, its passengers, service providers, the FRA and others a common tool to help objectively gauge intercity passenger rail travel.

“Eighty percent is a minimum standard,” said FRA Administrator Ronald Batory. “We expect many routes will be much more reliable. Clarity should help all parties ensure compliance.”

To develop the standard, FRA said it and Amtrak consulted with many stakeholders, including the Class I railroads that host Amtrak trains, states, labor unions, an advocacy group that represents Amtrak riders, and the U.S. Surface Transportation Board.

The rule would contain additional measurements for evaluating how well Amtrak serves the public, including financial performance and customer service metrics.

The FRA said the proposed rule is expected to be published in the Federal Register in the near future.

Public hearings, likely to be held online, will also follow a 60-day public comment period.

NARP Wants High Court Review of Passenger Ruling

November 15, 2017

The Rail Passengers Association, the new name for the National Association of Railroad Passengers, and the Environmental Law & Policy Center have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review an appeal court decision that reduced the authority of the Surface Transportation Board to set on-time standards for passenger trains.

In the petition, the groups content that without defined standards, freight will be systematically given preference over passenger trains, leading to chronic delays for long distance riders.

NARP is seeking to overturn the appeals court decision that applied a narrow interpretation of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act.

The case grew from a challenge to a section of that law by the Association of American Railroads that was first ruled upon by a Federal District Court for the District of Columbia.

“When the D.C. Circuit nullified Section 207 last year, it took away FRA’s power to develop on-time performance standards. Then the Eighth Circuit this summer interpreted Section 213 in a way that eviscerated the power of the Surface Transportation Board, which was the only agency left to carry out Congress’ assignment to improve on-time performance. The two courts’ moves together have left no agency remaining to fulfill Congress’ statutory mandate in PRIIA to enforce those standards,” said Jim Mathews, NARP president.

Matthews said these decisions have thwarted congressional intent in PRIIA and leaves passengers without any recourse.

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected an STB interpretation that Section 213 of PRIIA, which created two separate “triggers,” each of which require the STB to investigate sub-standard on-time performance.

NARP noted that the AAR had in 2015 asked the STB to create the regulation that defined on-time performance.

NARP said that after the STB sided with passenger group, the railroad industry trade association challenged STB’s authority to regulate the issue.

“This fight has gone on long enough,” Mathews said. “For decades, rail passengers have been left waiting for freight trains to clear the rails. Even acts of Congress haven’t been able to budge them out of the way. We need the courts to now recognize and allow Congress’ goal to be carried out. The law creating Amtrak in the early 1970s codified a deal these railroads made with the American taxpayer: we’ll relieve you of your common-carrier responsibility for passenger service, and in exchange you’ll ensure those passenger trains get where they need to go on time. It has been a battle ever since.”

 

AAR Opposes ‘All Stations’ OT Metrics

April 1, 2016

The Association of American Railroads has told the Surface Transportation Board that it opposes use of “all stations metrics” in setting on-time performance standards for passenger trains.

AAR submitted its comments as part of an STB proceeding that was mandated by federal law.

AARInstead of using an “all stations metric” as Amtrak has proposed, AAR said the STB should use those on-time performance metrics that Amtrak and its host railroads have adopted in their operating agreements, if applicable.

“Switching to an all-stations metric would create false positives for investigation because of the back-loading of recovery time in many of Amtrak’s schedules, in addition to conflicting with the operating agreements,” AAR said. “All-stations OTP (on-time performance) is a deficient metric.”

Amtrak has contended that an all-stations metric is the best way to measure on-time performance.

However, the AAR noted that the passenger carrier did not advocate for an all-stations metric in its operating agreements with the freight railroads even though virtually all of the arguments that Amtrak now makes in its comments to the STB were available when it negotiated those agreements.

The on-time standards that the STB is considering would come into play if a passenger carrier such as Amtrak felt that its trains were consistently being delayed by a host railroad.

Amtrak or another passenger carrier could ask the STB to launch an investigation and sanction a railroad if it was found to have violated the on-time performance standards.

In its comments to the STB, AAR noted that most operating agreements measure on-time performance through arrival at the endpoint of each host’s segment or at specified checkpoints rather than at all intermediate stations.

The AAR comments also noted that contrary to the belief of some, Congress has not adopted the all-stations metric for on-time performance in legislation it has adopted over the years, going back to 1976.

In its comments to the STB, Amtrak said an endpoint metric “ignores the experience’ of Amtrak passengers who disembark at an intermediate station.”

In response, the AAR said Amtrak and its host carriers have long recognized that the on-time performance measures in many of their operating agreements and endpoint OTP both provide strongly correlated indications of overall on-time performance on a route, including performance at intermediate stations.

“And in cases where endpoint on-time performance is satisfactory but all-stations on-time performance is not, the immediate focus should not be a full investigation of all operations for the train, but review and consideration of whether recovery time for that train has been appropriately set for the entire route.”

AAR spokesman Ed Greenberg told Railway Age magazine that the nation’s freight railroads recognize the importance of Amtrak.

“We are committed to a reliable passenger rail service,” he said.  “It is a delicate balance in this country where the majority of passenger rail operates on tracks owned by freight railroads, which means trying to find that right transportation mix of serving the needs of passenger rail while ensuring our industry is continuing to meet the shipping requirements of freight customers in moving the country’s economy. Freight railroads take their contractual obligations seriously and comply with the law.”

Greenberg said on-time performance measurement is complicated involves many factors that are negotiated between Amtrak and its host railroads.

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

February 10, 2016

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.

Amtrak Renews Dispute with CN Over Dispatching

September 3, 2014

Seeking to force Canadian National to provide better handling of its Chicago-Carbondale, Ill., Saluki and Illini, Amtrak lodged an amended complaint with the Surface Transportation Board seeking an investigation of CN’s dispatching practices. Amtrak claims that these have caused unacceptable train delays on the Chicago to Carbondale corridor.

The complaint said that on-time performance of the State of Illinois supported Illini and Saluki service was 49 percent for the quarter ending June 30 and 42 percent for the prior quarter.

The on-time performance of the four trains has been less than 80 percent for three years and less than 60 percent for most of that time. Amtrak cited Section 213 of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act which mandates that the STB initiate an investigation upon the filing of a complaint by Amtrak if the on-time performance of an intercity passenger train falls below 80 percent for two consecutive quarters.

Under federal law, Amtrak has a statutory right to preference in the dispatching of intercity passenger trains before freight trains. The amended complaint is part of the same case that Amtrak filed with the STB regarding CN’s performance in January 2012.

Those proceedings were stayed while Amtrak and CN attempted to address the issue of delays informally.

Amtrak said the recent poor performance of the Saluki and Illini prompted it to ask the STB to investigate the causes of delay and to award damages and other relief if violations of Amtrak’s right to preference are found.

CN spokesman Mark Hallman told Trains magazine that the railroad will respond to Amtrak’s investigation request to the STB. The City of New Orleans between Chicago and New Orleans also uses the same CN tracks as the Saluki and Illini.