Posts Tagged ‘U.S. Surface Transportation Board’

Amtrak Files STB Case Against Union Pacific

December 19, 2022

Amtrak wants the U.S. Surface Transportation board to order Union Pacific to give better handling to its New Orleans-Los Angeles Sunset Limited.

In a filing earlier this month, the passenger carries described the on-time performance of Nos. 1 and 2 as “abysmal” and blamed it on the operating practices of the host railroad.

According to Amtrak, delays occur most often when Amtrak is forced to follow a freight train that is too long to fit into existing passing sidings on the former Southern Pacific route.

Amtrak is seeking “damages and other relief” from UP. The case is the first of its kind to be brought under the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008, which gave the STB authority to investigate passenger on-time performance issues and how to address them.

The Amtrak STB filing contends that during federal fiscal year 2022, which ended last September, the Sunset Limited averaged more than 15 instances of freight train interference per trip, resulting in an average of more than four hours of delays.

During FY2022, Train No. 1 had on-time performances of 40 percent, 24 percent, 10 percent, and 11 percent for each respective quarter of the fiscal year.

The corresponding figures for Train No. 2 were 40 percent, 35 percent, 11 percent, and 7 percent.

Amtrak said UP was responsible for 74.2 percent of the delays, while the passenger carrier was responsible for 20.8 percent of the delays. Third parties were blamed for the remaining 5.1 percent of delays.

The passenger carrier has suggested that federal regulators consider the case in two phases, starting with an investigative phase to determine the cause of delays and a remedial phase to determine possible damages and corrective action.

Senate Committee Recommends STB Nominee, 5 Amtrak Board Nominees for Confirmation

December 9, 2022

The Senate Commerce Committee has recommended confirmation for one Biden administration appointee to the U.S. Surface Transportation Board and five nominees to the Amtrak Board of directors.

However, Railway Age magazine reported it is uncertain if the nominees will receive a floor vote due to limited floor time and the tradition of pairing Democratic nominees with Republican nominees for the purpose of confirmation.

All six of the nominees are Democrats, including incumbent STB member Robert M. Primus, who was nominated for a second term.

Nominated for the Amtrak board were Anthony R. Coscia, David M. Capozzi, Christopher Koos, the Rev. Samuel E. Lathem and Robin L. Wiessmann.

Railway Age said none of the six nominees appears to be in danger of being rejected if the Senate is able to vote on their confirmation.

President Joseph R. Biden is expected to renominate all six if they do not receive a vote this month.

Of the five Amtrak board nominees, Coscia, is the current board chairman, a post he has held since 2013. Three of the other nominees would replace members whose terms have expired but federal law allows them to continue serving until they or a successor is confirmed by the Senate.

The fifth Amtrak board nominee would fill a long-vacant position.

There are two Republican hold over members of the Amtrak board and another vacancy that must be filled by a Republican nominee.

As for the STB position, the term of nominee Primus expires at the end of this year but federal law enables him to remain in the position for up to year.

Gulf Coast Case Settlement Reported

November 29, 2022

Amtrak, CSX and Norfolk Southern told the U.S. Surface Transportation Board last week that they have reached an agreement that would allow new passenger service between New Orleans and Mobile, Alabama.

The announcement came in the form of a motion asking the STB to hold in abeyance hearings regulators had set for Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 in the case.

Amtrak brought the case in 2021 when it asked the STB to order NS and CSX to host the proposed double-daily service.

The host railroads had demanded infrastructure improvements that Amtrak considers excessive. Hearings were held earlier this year.

Also a party to the case is the Port of Mobile, which has expressed concern that the proposed Amtrak service would interfere with freight rail operations to the port.

Thus far the terms of the agreement have not yet been revealed nor has a date been set for when the service would commence.

The filing with the STB said, “The Parties have agreed to settlement terms that, when fully implemented, will lead to a complete resolution of this proceeding.”

The parties said they considered the settlement to be confidential and they would not comment upon it for the time being.

Earlier attempts to resolve the case through mediation had failed.

STB Delays Gulf Coast Case Final Hearings

November 11, 2022

The U.S. Surface Transportation Board has agreed to postpone final hearings in the Gulf Coast case.

Regulators acted after the parties to the case told the Board there was a “substantial probability” of reaching a settlement through arbitration.

The case was brought by Amtrak against CSX and Norfolk Southern in an effort to obtain an STB order directing those railroads to host double-daily new passenger service between New Orleans and Mobile, Alabama.

The sticking point has been infrastructure improvements the host railroads have demanded that Amtrak has described as exorbitant and unneeded.

The case has focused on whether the addition of passenger service would unduly interfere with the host railroads freight operations.

The STB had been scheduled to conduct hearings late this month and to hold a conference in early December with the goal of reaching a decision in the case.

Instead, regulators directed the parties in the case, which also includes the Alabama State Port Authority, to provide a status report by Nov. 21 on their negotiations.

If a settlement is not reached, the STB said it would conduct hearings via Zoom on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, and hold a conference on Dec. 7.

The parties in the case said if a final hearing is held they do not plan to call witnesses but instead will make their final arguments.

STB Grants Additional Mediation in Gulf Coast Case

November 3, 2022

The U.S. Surface Transportation Board has agreed to give the parties in the Gulf Coast case additional time in mediation.

The STB granted the request by Amtrak, CSX, Norfolk Southern and the Alabama State Port Authority to engage in mediation for another month.

The agency had been set to hold hearings on the case in mid-November and issue a decision by early December.

In its order, the STB said it still plans to hold the hearings as scheduled unless it is notified by the parties by Nov. 10 that they want the hearings to be delayed or cancelled.

The parties would need to show the Board that substantial progress has been made in reaching a settlement in the dispute.

Amtrak is seeking an STB order allowing it to use CSX and Norfolk Southern tracks to launch twice-daily new passenger service between New Orleans and Mobile, Alabama.

The two host railroads have demanded what Amtrak considers an exorbitant level of infrastructure improvements before they will agree to host the trains.

The freight carriers have said Amtrak service would disrupt their freight operations without those improvements, an assertion that Amtrak denies.

If the hearings are not held as planned but no settlement is reached, the STB said it would conduct the hearings on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1.

The STB held 11 days of hearings in the case earlier this year.

Parties Want More Time for Mediation in Gulf Coast Case

November 2, 2022

The soap opera sage along the Gulf Coast added another chapter this week when the parties to the case before the U.S. Surface Transportation Board asked for another month of mediation.

The action followed last week’s STB action in setting hearing dates for the case, which involves Amtrak seeking an STB order to host railroads CSX and Norfolk Southern to allow two daily roundtrips between New Orleans and Mobile, Alabama.

The Mobile service proposal has languished for years, largely due to host railroad demands for multi-million infrastructure improvements that Amtrak has balked at providing.

In recent months the parties in the dispute, which also includes the Alabama State Port Authority, have argued over how Amtrak service would affect freight service on the route.

Amtrak and the host railroads have engaged in STB-sponsored mediation before, but failed to reach an agreement to resolve the dispute.

The STB said last week that it could vote as early as Dec. 7 on resolving the dispute.

But Amtrak, CSX, NS and the port authority want the STB hearings to be delayed while mediation continues. They asked that regulators to stay proceedings in the case until Dec. 1.

The STB had set hearings for Nov. 17-18. However, the parties in the dispute said it would be difficult to conduct mediation and attend those hearings at the same time.

The STB has indicated that its preference is for the parties to settle their differences among themselves rather than have the Board decree a resolution.

CN Rejects Amtrak Dispatching Proposal

July 31, 2022

Amtrak’s northbound Saluki charges through Arcola, Illinois, on the Champaign Subdivision of Canadian National on May 28

Canadian National has rejected an Amtrak proposal that could lead to the passenger carrier taking over dispatching control of CN lines with on-time performance for Amtrak trains.

In a 297-page filing with the U.S. Surface Transportation Board, CN called the idea “an outrageously self-serving recipe” and urged regulators to reject it “out of hand.”

CN contends that if implemented, the plan would harm its freight service.

“Amtrak’s proposal treats CN’s network as if it were Amtrak’s property and would likely result in a material lessening of the quality of freight service on CN’s network, and more broadly, the nation’s inter-dependent freight network,” CN wrote in its filing.

For its part, Amtrak wants the STB to turn down CN’s latest proposal for a contract between the two companies because it would fail to comply with performance metrics established by the Federal Railroad Administration and “would lead to the absurd result that CN can earn incentives . . . when Amtrak passengers are routinely late as a result of CN’s actions.”

Amtrak and CN have long been at odds over the latter’s handling of passenger trains, particularly on the former Illinois Central route between Chicago and Carbondale, Illinois.

The two railroads have been unable to agree on a new operating contract and thus continue to use a pact dating to 2011.

The passenger carrier had proposed in May that under certain conditions it would take over dispatching of CN track used by Amtrak.

That would be the case if Amtrak trains operating on CN exceeded a set number of minutes of delay for four consecutive calendar quarters.

In response to the CN filing, Amtrak submitted its own 407-page response. The copies of the CN and Amtrak filings that were made available to the public were heavily redacted, Trains magazine reported in a story posted on its website.

The CN filing, for example, redacted information about how many trains its dispatchers handle on a typical shift.

The Amtrak filing removed a description of a CN proposal for mediation in one area of the dispute and omitted an Amtrak argument as to why regulators should reject a CN proposal regarding review of schedules.

The Amtrak filing made public did contain its argument that in the passenger carrier’s view what CN has proposed is that if Amtrak trains post a poor on-time record over a six-month period that the two engage in what Amtrak termed “a time-consuming process of investigations, meetings, and discussions about the causes of Amtrak’s delays.”

Amtrak argued that a failure by the two parties to agree on remedial action could result in the dispute dragging on for months and may years more.

The filing revealed that CN wants Amtrak to reimburse it for crew overtime, fuel, and equipment costs resulting when freight trains make way for Amtrak trains.

Amtrak responded that a host railroad “is not entitled to reimbursement for discharging its statutory obligation to provide preference to Amtrak trains.”

The Trains story can be read at https://www.trains.com/trn/news-reviews/news-wire/canadian-national-blasts-amtrak-proposal-for-dispatching-control-as-outrageously-self-serving/

STB Orders Mediation in Gulf Coast Case

June 16, 2022

The U.S. Surface Transportation Board has ordered that the parties to a dispute over proposed Amtrak service along the Gulf Coast participate in mediation that would be sponsored by the Board.

The order by federal regulators also ordered CSX and Norfolk Southern to provide access to Amtrak representatives to information the two railroads consider to be confidential.

It is the latest development in a case that is more than a year old in which Amtrak has asked federal regulators to order the two Class 1 railroads to host new service Amtrak wants to launch between New Orleans and Mobile, Alabama.

That service has been proposed for years and funding is in place for it, but the freight carriers have been demanding infrastructure improvements that Amtrak contends are unnecessary.

Regulators held public hearings earlier this year and the various parties have been waging a war of filings with the STB.

The confidential information at issue are the results of rail traffic controller studies conducted in 2020 and 2021.

Amtrak wants access to materials created during those studies to it can, in its view, better respond to evidence introduced by CSX and NS during the proceedings as to the effects that introduction of intercity passenger service would have on their freight operations.

STB members raised questions about some of that evidence during the hearings.

Amtrak Wants STB to Impose New Operating Agreement with Canadian National

June 2, 2022

Amtrak wants the U.S. Surface Transportation Board to create a new seven-year operating agreement with host railroad Canadian National that would in some instances give the passenger carrier the right to dispatch CN lines.

The new agreement Amtrak is seeking also would change the terms of service under which CN is paid to host Amtrak trains.

CN and Amtrak have since 2013 been locked in a dispute over the freight carrier’s dispatching practices.

In August 2019, federal regulators ordered the two parties to enter mediation overseen by the STB but that failed to reach an agreement to end the dispute.

If the Board accepts Amtrak’s proposal, CN would be paid less money in incentive payments when Amtrak trains on a CN route fail to reach specified on-time standards.

The passenger carrier believes this would give CN an incentive to keep Amtrak trains running on time.

The Amtrak proposal adopting the customer on-time standards set in 2020 by the Federal Railroad Administration that measures the performance of passenger trains based on the percentage of passengers who arrive on time at their destination stations.

Those standards measure the number of passengers who reach their destination no later than 15 minutes after scheduled arrival, and sets 80 percent over two consecutive quarters as the minimum acceptable standard.

The Amtrak proposal acknowledges this “is not a perfect measure of CN’s performance on any of the routes, particularly those where there are other host railroads that host the lion’s share of the track-miles.”

Thus Amtrak is seeking a standard that would not penalize CN for delays incurred by Amtrak trains that CN did not cause.

The FRA standards also measure how much host freight railroads have delayed passenger trains.

Under the Amtrak proposal, incentive payments to CN would increase as the number of passenger-miles on a route increase, and as the number of delays attributable to CN per 10,000 train miles decrease.

The goal, Amtrak said, is to give CN an incentive to minimize delays within its control.

In extreme cases, Amtrak wants to take over dispatching of routes with poor on-time performance.

That would occur when delays occur on a route for four consecutive quarters. In that case, Amtrak or a third party that it designated would take over dispatching for two years or until the delay figure has been below 924 minutes per 10,000 train-miles for 12 consecutive months.

An alternative situation would allow a representative of Amtrak, its inspector general, or the STB to sit alongside CN dispatchers as they dispatched a route. This alternative would require CN to receive Amtrak’s prior approval for non-emergency maintenance work expected to affect Amtrak’s on-time performance.

CN and Amtrak are operating under a 2011 “interim agreement ordered by the STB because the two parties were unable to reach agreement on their own on an operating contract.

STB Rejects Gulf Coast Case Mediation Request

April 2, 2022

The U.S. Surface Transportation Board turned down a request by CSX and Norfolk Southern for mediation in the Gulf Coast service case.

Instead, regulators plan to conduct evidentiary hearings starting April 4 in a case brought by Amtrak seeking an order forcing CSX and NS to host double daily passenger service between New Orleans and Mobile, Alabama.

In its ruling the STB said it might have been willing to order mediation had all parties agree to it.

But Amtrak opposed the mediation request, describing it as yet another effort by the host railroads to delay the proceedings.

“Had all parties been willing to enter into mediation, the Board might have been inclined to more favorably consider the request, even at this late date, since this matter appears to be one that could have been resolved through mediation,” the STB wrote in part.

The STB ruling noted that regulators normally favor mediation rather than an STB ordered resolution of a dispute.

Amtrak brought the case in March 2021. Earlier hearings were held on Feb. 15-16.