Posts Tagged ‘Dick Durbin’

Illinois Lawmakers Continue to Prod Anderson

January 28, 2020

An Illinois U.S. Senator who described a $25,000 fee that Amtrak sought to impose on a group of wheel chair travelers is continuing to demand that Amtrak change its policies.

Senator Tammy Duckworth along with the other senator from Illinois, Richard Durbin, and U.S. Rep. Jesús Chuy have written to Amtrak President Richard Anderson to ask that the passenger carrier review and improve its disability and accessibility policies, create a new position on its  executive leadership team and work with Congress to establish a new seat on the Amtrak board of directors to be filled by a member of the disability community.

The letter was written after the passenger carrier backed down from the fee, which was to cover the costs of removing seats from a passenger coach to accommodate the five members of a group who use wheelchairs who were traveling from Chicago to Normal, Illinois, to attend a conference.

“The time has come for Amtrak to hold itself accountable for making intercity passenger rail readily accessible to all Americans,” the Illinois lawmakers said in the letter.

“Amtrak’s decision to shift accommodation costs onto disabled commuters undermined trust with loyal customers and damaged the Corporation’s brand. We support your decision to reconsider and end the existing policies and practices that led to the unlawful initial charge to these commuters.”

The lawmakers said they hope that the controversy over the fee “will serve as a turning point in the long-standing effort to make sure Amtrak customers with disabilities can travel as seamlessly as any other passenger on the national network.”

The letter was sent to Anderson on Monday.

Parley Held to Discuss Lateness on Carbondale Route

November 27, 2019

Poor timekeeping in the Chicago-Carbondale, Illinois, corridor appears to correlate with falling ridership at Champaign-Urbana, Amtrak officials recently said at a conference to discuss the route.

“There is a correlation between poor on-time performance and reduced patronage at Champaign, and that affects Illinois taxpayers who help support the service,” Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said.

The conference was held Nov. 22 and involved representatives of Canadian National, Amtrak and officials from communities along the route.

Amtrak officials gave a PowerPoint presentation showing how delays to trains at Champaign seem to be correlated with ridership peaks and valleys over the past decade.

The chart shows that on the whole ridership from Champaign-Urbana, home to the University of Illinois and the largest metropolitan region on the route south of Chicago, has been growing since 2008.

However, the chart also shows that delays have been declining since 2013 when about 60 percent of the trains serving Champaign were late.

Delays fell to about 30 percent in 2015. Since then the percentage of trains arriving late at Champaign has varied between 30 to 40 percent.

In the period 2008 to 2013 delays were in the 50 to 60 percent range.

The corridor is home to the State of Illinois funded Illini and Saluki between Chicago and Carbondale, and the City of New Orleans between Chicago and New Orleans.

Between 2008 and 2019 ridership crested at 190,000 in 2013 before starting a steady descent that bottomed out at 160,000 in 2018.

However, in the past year, ridership has sharply rebounded to near its 2013 peak. The ridership low point was 2009 and 2010 when the lingering effects of the Great Recession might have had an influence. Ridership in those years was around 140,000.

The on-time performance has not affected all of the six trains in the corridor the same. The Saluki has borne the brunt of the delays, arriving at its endpoints on time just 26 percent of the time in fiscal year 2019, which ended on Sept. 30.

The City of New Orleans has performed better in part because it has more scheduled padding than the state-funded trains.

“Because the distance from Champaign to Chicago is relatively short [129 miles], we are much more vulnerable to leak ridership from there when taking the train becomes unreliable,” Magliari said.

The conference was not open to the news media or the public, but officials held a news conference afterward. The CN representatives did not participate in the news conference.

Amtrak and CN are currently involved in a case before the U.S. Surface Transportation Board regarding the passenger carrier’s contention that CN gives Amtrak trains poor handling.

The host railroad has required Amtrak trains since 2014 to have a minimum of 32 axles to ensure a proper shunt of signals and crossing gates.

CN has said this is necessary because Amtrak’s Amfleet and Horizon equipment might not otherwise activate grade crossing protection devices in a corridor where the top speed is 79 mph.

Amtrak contends that CN track maintenance procedures and not its equipment is to blame for instances in which safety devices failed to activate.

Another source of delay has been CN’s edict that the Saluki and Illini slow to 60 mph over any highway crossings protected by electronic warning devices between University Park and Centralia.

Those trains carry Amfleet and/or Horizon equipment whereas the City of New Orleans is assigned Superliner equipment.

“The schedule for each train has more than a half-hour of buffer – time added in addition to running time – but the delays still occur,” Magliari said.

He disputed CN’s contention that schedules need to be lengthened, saying the trains arrived early 11 percent of the time.

A Trains magazine report about the conference noted that former CN CEO E. Hunter Harrison, sought to prevent Amtrak from instituting the Saluki in 2006 but backed down after U.S. Senator Richard Durbin (D-Illinois) intervened.

Harrison was once CEO of the Illinois Central, which owned the tracks before they were acquired by CN in 1998.

Trains observed that delays to the Saluki have been prevalent in each direction since the train began service.

Durbin recently said he is ready to introduce legislation to give Amtrak a right to sue a host railroad for failure to give passenger trains preference.

But one member of Congress from Illinois, Rodney Davis, believes it is too soon for that.

Davis, who sits on the House committee that oversees Amtrak said giving the passenger carrier a right to sue a host railroad would prolong a solution to on-time performance issues.

He attended the news conference that followed the Nov. 22 conference.

“At this point, I want to try and solve (the on-time performance) problem without going to litigation,” Davis said. “When litigation is involved, it will prolong the final solution.”

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.

Durbin Seeks to Hold RRs Accountable for Amtrak Delays

October 26, 2019

An Illinois Senator says Amtrak’s host railroads could do more to operate Amtrak trains on time.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin said in letters sent to the passenger carrier and the Federal Railroad Administration that he wants to work with them on the issue.

Durbin said he acted after the Amtrak Office of Inspector General issued a report that concluded report Amtrak could save $42 million annually if its trains operated on time more often.

The report was created under the direction of an amendment that Durbin won approval of last year during the appropriations process.

Of particular interest to Durbin is the poor performance of State of Illinois-funded Amtrak trains operating between Chicago and Carbondale, Illinois, on tracks of Canadian National.

The report found that Amtrak must make penalty payments to crews as a result of poor on-time performance of the Illini and Saluki trains.

“As a firm supporter of passenger rail, I stand ready to continue working with Amtrak, as well as with the FRA, to push Canadian National to improve Amtrak’s reliability for Illinois riders,” Durbin wrote Amtrak President and CEO Richard Anderson.

In his letter to FRA had Ronald Batory, Durbin called on the agency “to take a more active role in ensuring improvements to Amtrak’s [on-time performance], particularly along its Chicago-Champaign-Carbondale routes.”

Durbin is calling for CN to be held accountable for repeated freight interference and speed restrictions imposed on Amtrak trains in the Chicago-Carbondale, Illinois, corridor.

“As you are well aware, freight railroads continue to ignore their statutory obligation to provide Amtrak with preference on their tracks,” Durbin wrote to Batory.

“As a result, freight interference has hampered Amtrak’s financial stability as well as reliability for riders — and it caused roughly 60 percent of Amtrak’s delays in FY2018.”

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.”

Durbin Wants FRA to Pressure Railroads to Run Amtrak Trains On Time

May 11, 2018

Illinois Senator Dick Durbin has joined Carbondale, Illinois, officials in seeking to pressure the Federal Railroad Administration into leaning on Amtrak’s host railroads to operate Chicago-Carbondale trains on time.

During the past year trains on the route were on time on just 32 percent of their trips.

“That’s simply unacceptable and deserves the FRA’s immediate attention and action,” Durbin wrote in his letter to the FRA.

“Amtrak’s Chicago-Champaign-Carbondale route continues to be one of the worst preforming routes in the country,” he said. “The Illini and Saluki trains are consistently delayed by CN’s freight interference and the ongoing speed restrictions put in place by CN in 2015.”

The speed restriction that Durbin referenced was put into place along a 200-mile stretch of the 309-mile corridor as a safety precaution following repeated mechanical issues.

However, Amtrak and CN have been in a stalemate over finding a solution to solve that issue and lift the speed restriction.

Durbin wants the FRA to take a more active role to ensure that Amtrak trains operate on time in Illinois and around the country.

“My constituents have waited long enough while the Amtrak service they rely on has suffered,” Durbin said. “It’s time for the FRA to take on a larger oversight role in the ongoing dispute between Amtrak and CN, and I urge you to begin convening regular meetings between the leadership at FRA, CN, and Amtrak that include my staff so the FRA can set deadlines, prevent further delays, and ensure greater accountability.”

Durbin also contended that freight train interference has played a major role in causing delays to Amtrak trains.

“Canadian National in particular has a long history of holding up Amtrak trains and holding back investments that could improve passenger and freight service in downstate Illinois,” Durbin said.

Durbin’s letter came shortly after Carbondale city officials met with him and Amtrak managers to discuss the paltry on-time performance of Chicago-Carbondale trains, most of which are funded by the State of Illinois.

The route also hosts Amtrak’s Chicago-New Orleans City of New Orleans.

Durbin Seeks STB Probe of CN Amtrak Handling

August 6, 2014

An Illinois senator has asked the Surface Transportation Board to investigate delays to Amtrak trains and blocked grade crossings by Canadian National.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said the CN has failed to meet its obligations associated with the 2009 acquisition of the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Railway. Durbin asked the STB to investigate the causes of Amtrak delays and enforce on-time performance standards

As a result of “CN’s obstructions and delays,” Amtrak trains along the Chicago-Champaign-Carbondale route  arrived on time only 54 percent of the time during the past fiscal year, one of the worst-performing corridors in the nation, the senator said in a news release. Durbin also claimed there were a record number of blocked crossings resulting from unit trains – some of which transport crude oil and ethanol – through such suburban Chicago communities as Barrington and Aurora.

There were 5,267 instances of crossings being blocked by trains for 10 minutes or more in the first quarter, the highest number since CN took ownership of the line, the senator wrote. “I am disappointed … that I continue to hear reports of CN’s unwillingness to meet its most basic obligations in delivering safe and reliable rail service in Illinois,” Durbin said. “CN has failed communities across Illinois, from the suburbs of Chicago that have experienced a record number of blocked rail crossings to towns in Central and Southern Illinois that must face repeated delays in Amtrak service.”

The STB established an oversight period of five years to monitor the operational and environmental impacts of the EJ&E acquisition.

Durbin asked the board to extend the oversight period to ensure that the issues are addressed. In June, Durbin wrote to CN President and Chief Executive Officer Claude Mongeau asking the railroad to address what he believes are ongoing safety and traffic issues.

Mongeau replied with a letter stating that as the weather improved, so did CN’s operations. CN and other Chicago-area railroads were coping with operational challenges and delays due to harsh winter conditions, Mongeau wrote.

With regard to Amtrak service, CN hosts three pairs of Amtrak trains between Chicago and Carbondale each day. Since winter ended, the Illini and Saluki on-time performances have improved significantly with some trains’ contractual performance reaching 90 percent or more in May and June, Mongeau said.

Per the contract, CN must operate the trains between Carbondale and Chicago in an agreed amount of run time. The route also hosts the City of New Orleans.

“Under that contact, CN’s on-time performance is measured based on whether the train moves across the CN route in the pre-set number of minutes. So far this fiscal year, from October to July, CN’s on-time performance under that contract for the two Saluki trains is 84 and 82 percent, and for the two Illini trains is 61 and 82 percent,” said Mongeau.

“Additionally, 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, on this busy and congested freight corridor.”