Posts Tagged ‘Daniel Lipinski’

Amtrak Arbitration Clause Continues to Draw Fire

December 14, 2019

The arbitration clause that Amtrak foisted onto its passengers earlier this year has drawn opposition from 32 groups that have asked Congress to overturn it.

The groups in a letter to Congress described the arbitration clause as a “secret justice system” that is bad for consumers.

“[Amtrak’s arbitration] provision states that it is ‘intended to be as broad as legally possible’ – applying not only to individuals who buy tickets, but to ‘family members, minor passengers, colleagues and companies’ for whom tickets are bought,” wrote Public Citizen. “The provision also lists a litany of claims that cannot be heard in court, including negligence, gross negligence, disfigurement, wrongful death, medical and hospital expenses, discrimination and failure to accommodate an actual or perceived disability.”

The arbitration clause has already drawn criticism from some members of Congress.

House Railroads Subcommittee Chair Dan Lipinski (D-Illinois) said during an Amtrak reauthorization hearing that his committee is looking at ways to void the arbitration clause.

“Apparently there is not anything to bar forced arbitration for an Amtrak passenger, so that is something that we’re now starting to look at legislatively,” Lipinski said.

For its part, Amtrak has told Congress that arbitration provides a more efficient process when they have claims that can’t be resolved directly with Amtrak.

The passenger carrier said in a letter to lawmakers that it implemented the arbitration clause in an effort to follow a congressional directive to save money.

Amtrak noted that its legal costs have been more than $11 million during the past five years.

The website Politico said the letter was a response to congressional criticism.

However, Politico reported that House Transportation Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon) said he still thinks the policy “goes too far in limiting opportunities for the customers and American public to hold Amtrak accountable by raising serious issues in a public forum.”

Congressman Wants Metra to Control Chicago Station

November 19, 2019

A Chicago area congressman may introduce legislation to force Amtrak to turn over control of Chicago Union Station to commuter rail operator Metra.,

U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski said he will introduce that legislation unless Amtrak voluntarily gives up control of the station.

Lipinski, who had unsuccessfully sought earlier this year to prod Amtrak into giving up control of Union Station, noted that 90 percent of the depot’s passengers are Metra passengers.

A computer failure in February in an Amtrak control center brought rail traffic to a near halt causing major delays for thousands of Metra passengers over the course of a day.

The legislation would be a clause inserted into the 2020 Amtrak reauthorization bill that Congress has just started to work on.

Before introducing the legislation, Lipkinski’s office said the congressman wanted to consult with outside experts on whether Metra has the technical ability to operate Union Station, which is owned by Amtrak.

Lipinski also wants to ascertain if there are any national implications to a Metra takeover of the station.

As chairman of House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials, Lipinski has been using his bully pulpit to pressure on Amtrak.

At a minimum, he has argued that the national passenger carrier needs to make improvements to the station, although he said he now thinks the best way to achieve those would be for Amtrak to give up operational control of Union Station.

Amtrak has said in response that it is committed to keeping control of Union Station ownership or operations.

During a hearing last week before Lipinski’s committee, Amtrak President Richard Anderson said Amtrak dispatches Metra trains with a 99 percent on-time rate.

Metra CEO Jim Derwinski had said previously that Metra believes it needs to “have control over our own destiny” at Union Station.

The rail commuter carrier said it wants to own or control the station’s  transportation assets, but not its commercial space.

Metra and Amtrak have also been involved in contentious negotiations over a new lease that both sides have asked the U.S. Surface Transportation Board to help resolve.

Amtrak Won’t Give Up Control of CUS

April 21, 2019

Amtrak won’t allow Chicago commuter rail operate Metra to take over ownership of Chicago Union Station.

The request was made by a Chicago area Congressman who also held a hearing about two recent signal malfunctions at the station that delayed thousands of Metra commuters.

U.S. Rep. Daniel Lipinski is chairman of a subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

“Unfortunately, we are here today because all too often Metra trains are seriously delayed, very uncomfortable or unexpectedly cancelled,” Lipinski said. “Metra riders are not getting the service they deserve.”

Attending the hearing were representatives of Amtrak, Metra, BNSF, Norfolk Southern and Canadian National.

About 90 percent of the trains using CUS belong to Metra and paid Amtrak $9.7 million last year in lease payments.

During the hearing, Ray Lang, Amtrak’s senior director of government affairs, said the carrier has “repeatedly apologized” for the incidents and that Amtrak is working to prevent future problems.

Lang said it is not unusual for Amtrak to be the minority operator at a station.

Metra CEO Jim Derwinski said called for his agency to “have control over our own destiny.

But Lang said Amtrak is not going to give up control of CUS.

Instead, he called for additional local, state, and federal funding for capacity improvements at the station.

Lang acknowledged that Lipinski’s committee will oversee drafting rail funding reauthorization legislation in 2020 that will include funding for Amtrak.

Amtrak Won’t Reimburse Stranded Metra Passengers

April 5, 2019

Amtrak has declined a demand by an Illinois Congressman that it reimburse Metra passengers who took alternative transportation home after more than 60,000 were stranded on Feb. 28 due to a computer malfunction at Chicago Union Station.

Rep. Daniel Lipinski had asked Amtrak to reimburse those who took a taxi or hired a ride sharing service after Metra service all but ground to a halt.

Amtrak has apologized for the incident, which it said occurred due to human error during a computer hardware upgrade.

The computer problem left Amtrak dispatchers unable to remotely control signals and switches at the station.

Although Amtrak trains were affected by the issues, Metra was hit hard because it accounts for 75 percent of the rail traffic and 90 percent of the passengers using Amtrak-owned Union Station.

Lipinski, the chairman of the Subcommittee on Rail, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has said he’ll hold an ad hoc hearing in Chicago in the coming weeks to probe the incident.

He said he was “extremely disappointed” over Amtrak’s refusal to reimburse Metra passengers.

“This raises the question of whether Amtrak should give Metra operational control of the station,” Lipinski said.

News reports have indicated that Amtrak was installing positive train control equipment when a technician fell on a circuit board while holding a live wire.

That resulted in an electrical short resulted in the primary and secondary servers used to control the signals and switches.

Amtrak has said that it typically does not conduct maintenance or upgrades of signal equipment during rush hour, but an inexperienced manager authorized an experienced senior technician to go ahead with the work.

A letter from Amtrak Senior Vice President Stephen Gardner to Lipinski said the passenger carrier understands that thousands of commuters were adversely affected and that it is “taking immediate concrete steps to ensure the causes of this event are addressed.”

Metra, BNSF Ripped at Public Hearing

December 12, 2018

A Chicago congressman has accused commuter rail agency Metra and host railroad BNSF of having “failed all to often” to provide reliable service.

The charge was made by U.S. Rep. Daniel Lipinski, D-Illinois, during a public hearing that he described as an effort to force Metra and BNSF to improve service.

“We all understand that problems can occur, but this year the Metra BNSF line has failed all too often. There have been repeated delays, cancellations, broken air conditioners, and other problems,” Lipinski said during the hearing in Western Springs. “I’ve told Metra and BNSF that this is unacceptable and the problems must end.”

Metra CEO James Derwinski and BNSF Vice President for passenger operations D.J. Mitchell told the audience of 80 that their organizations would do their best to address problems on the line.

The BNSF Line between Chicago Union Station and Aurora, Illinois, is the busiest of Metra’s 11 lines, carrying 64,000 riders a day.

The line is also used by Amtrak’s Southwest Chief, California Zephyr, Illinois Zephyr and Carl Sandburg trains.

Metra operates 94 trains on weekdays while BNSF has up to 60 trains a day.