Posts Tagged ‘U.S. Surface Transportation Board’

Mediation Fails to Reach Settlement with Amtrak, CN

January 28, 2020

Mediators trying to help Canadian National and Amtrak reach an agreement to settle a dispute over train dispatching have notified the U.S. Surface Transportation Board that they have withdrawn.

The mediators notified STB Chair Ann Begeman that despite meeting with the two sides “multiple times over the last several months” no settlement was reached.

The STB ordered the two parties to enter into mediation last August.

Amtrak has filed a case with the STB against CN over how the host railroad handles Amtrak trains, particularly between Chicago and Carbondale, Illinois, where Amtrak operates three pairs of trains.

In their letter to the STB, the mediators said they remain available to the parties should they decided to revive mediation.

The STB order had appointed the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service to serve as lead mediator.

Amtrak and CN have been at odds over a number of issues. Aside from Amtrak’s contention that CN dispatching has unduly delayed it trains, the passenger carrier is upset over a CN minimum axle count mandate that results in longer train consists than Amtrak wants to operate.

CN contends that Amtrak rolling stock has issues with activating grade crossing protection devices whereas Amtrak counters that CN maintenance practices are the problem.

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, CN Directed to Engage in Mediation

August 15, 2019

Federal regulators have directed Amtrak and Canadian National to use mediation in an effort to resolve their differences.

Amtrak had sought in late July 2013 to get the U.S. Surface Transportation Board to “institute a proceeding to establish reasonable terms and compensation for Amtrak’s use of the facilities and services of CN.

The passenger carrier sought STB intervention because it and CN had been unable to agree on a new contract.

Amtrak and some Illinois public officials have been critical of CN’s handling of Amtrak trains, particularly on the Chicago-Carbondale, Illinois, corridor where late trains have become common.

However, CN also hosts Amtrak trains in Michigan between Battle Creek and Port Huron.

One major sticking point in the dispute is when to define whether a train is operating on time.

CN wants that definition to be limited to endpoints whereas Amtrak wants it to apply to all intermediate stations.

The STB this week announced that has directed Amtrak and CN to engage in a 30-day STB sponsored mediation.

STB Chairman Ann Begeman will name one or more mediators by next week.

In a summary of its action, the STB said it has asked Amtrak and CN to negotiate an all-station metric because the current endpoint-only measurement reduces service quality for passengers traveling between intermediate stops, which comprise 75 percent to 95 percent of passengers.

Another issue that has had the two parties are loggerheads involves incentive payments and penalties.

CN wants to maintain the status quo and lengthen Amtrak schedules if sufficient infrastructure doesn’t exist to make schedules realistically achievable.

Amtrak has countered by saying it will pay incentives based on achieving 80 percent on-time performance, less penalties that include a metric accounting for minutes of host railroad delay.

The STB has urged the two sides to incorporate a “degree of lateness into their penalty calculation” because “while increasing the lateness of already-late Amtrak trains may not have negative consequences for CN, it negatively affects Amtrak and its passengers.”

CN has demanded that incremental costs paid by Amtrak include delays to its freight trains caused by the presence of Amtrak trains.

Amtrak said it wants incremental costs to be limited to “avoidable costs in the short run.”

The STB said costs incorporated into the agreement must be “specific, verifiable, and quantifiable.”

The STB did not offer any findings on what it termed a difference of opinion between Amtrak and CN as to root cause of delays or how a recovery time base is determined and distributed across a schedule.

STB Asked to Allow Metra to Continue Use of CUS

July 26, 2019

Amtrak has asked the U.S. Surface Transportation Board to allow Chicago commuter rail agency Metra to continue using Chicago Union Station as the two sides continue to haggle over lease payments.

Declaring that more than a year of negotiations has yet to yield an agreement to extend Metra’s lease, which expires on July 29, Amtrak has asked the STB to issue an interim order enabling Metra to continue using the station.

Metra and Amtrak officials have said that no disruption of service or other operational changes will occur despite the lack of a lease extension.

Instead, Metra will continue to use the station under a 1984 agreement that has been amended several times.

Amtrak said the two sides have a “significant, material gap between our respective views of ‘fair share’” costs at the station, and there are “methodological and philosophical differences between us on how that fair share should be calculated.”

Metra said in a statement that it “is seeking the best deal for its customers and for the taxpayers of northeastern Illinois. We agree that requesting the involvement of the Surface Transportation Board at this juncture is appropriate and we look forward to making our case there.”

Union Station serves 41 percent of Metra’s passengers traveling to or from downtown Chicago.

It has 286 weekly trains using six routes from Union Station that average 109,520 passengers.

In fiscal year 2018, Metra paid Amtrak $9.66 million to use Union Station. Amtrak reportedly is seeking to raise the rent by several million dollars.

It has justified its demands for higher rent by saying Metra’s use of the depot has increased significantly over the years. Amtrak is also seeking to recoup some of the costs of capital investments it has made at Union Station.

Amtrak contends that Metra has benefited from an outdated and inadequate 1984 contract that has failed to account for significant increases in its rail traffic and passenger counts at CUS.

The national passenger carrier is also reported to be seeking a firm commitment by Metra to contribute to upgrading the station facilities.

However, Metra is seeking to reduce its rent to less than $7 million a year. Earlier this year, Metra even suggested that it take control of Union Station because it accounts for 90 percent of the trains using the facility. Amtrak rejected that idea.

A consulting firm hired by Metra suggested the commuter rail agency pay costs for dispatching and maintenance that are similar to those Amtrak is seeking.

“But there is still a gap between Amtrak’s proposals in these areas and Metra’s counter-proposal, and more significant gaps in other cost categories, including operating expenses, policing, liability and overall capital investment,” Amtrak has said.

High Court Won’t Hear AAR Passenger Rules Appeal

June 4, 2019

Amtrak and the Association of American Railroads are both claiming victory in the wake of a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to decline to review an appeals court ruling in the long-running battle over the authority of federal regulators to established on-time standards for passenger trains.

The latest action by the high court means that a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia that Amtrak and the Federal Railroad Administration may work together to establish on-time metrics to be applied to Amtrak’s host railroads will stand.

The Supreme Court in 2015 had ruled 9-0 that the two could collaborate on those metrics.

However, the DC appeals court has also ruled that part of the 2008 Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act was unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court has not overturned that ruling, which was made in July 2018.

The appeals court ruled unconstitutional part of section 207, which gave the U.S. Surface Transportation Board the ability to settle disputes over on-time performance metrics and standards by appointing an arbiter to perform binding arbitration.

The court objected to the use of binding arbitration and said Amtrak could not unilaterally impose metrics and standards on a host railroad over its objections.

That same decision upheld the remainder of section 207, which dictated how on-time metrics could be developed.

It was that part of the appeals court decision that AAR appealed to the Supreme Court.

In reaction to the most recent development, Amtrak said in a statement that it is pleased with the decision and looks forward to working with FRA “to develop clear, efficient and impactful metrics that will lead to better on-time performance for Amtrak customers and the entire rail system.”

The AAR in a statement express disappointment with the high court’s refusal to accept its appeal but said it was pleased that the provision pertaining to metrics and standards remains invalidated.

“Freight railroads are committed to providing efficient and reliable service to all their customers and tenant railroads, and we will work with the FRA and Amtrak in a way that recognizes the importance of moving increased freight volume to help support the U.S. economy,” the AAR said.

The legal battle over the on-time standards dates to 2011 when AAR commenced litigation.

The essence of the latest outcome means that although the previous on-time standards are not longer valid, Amtrak and the FRA will have the opportunity to try again to come up with a different set of standards.

That process is expected to take several months and Amtrak’s host railroads may still be dissatisfied with them and seek to have then struck down in court.

Railway Age Washington reporter Frank N. Wilner said the resulting regulatory proceedings and any subsequent litigation could take up another half a decade.

Wilner speculated that the railroad industry might argue in future court cases that the standards amount to an unconstitutional taking of private property without appropriate compensation.

He said the court have yet to rule on what constitutes a reasonable compensation to remedy freight railroad delays and if such compensation even is recoverable.

STB Task Force Favors Rate Review Changes

May 1, 2019

A task force of the U.S. Surface Transportation Board has issued a report that recommends changes to the board’s rate review methodologies and policies.

In a news release, the STB said the task forced favored updating and improving methodologies to bring them in line with current transportation issues and trends.

Recommendations of the task force included:

• Offering proposals the STB could adopt to reduce the cost and complexity of small rate disputes.

• Calling for legislation that would permit the STB to require arbitration of small rate disputes.

• Simplifying the existing stand-alone cost test.

• Proposing a new rate methodology that considers the cost structure of the defendant carrier instead of a hypothetical stand-alone carrier.

• Defining long-term revenue adequacy and three structural remedies based on the following: a rate-increase constraint; reversing the board’s long-standing ‘bottleneck’ decisions; and restoring certain simplifications in the existing simplified SAC process.

• Increasing the accessibility of the three-benchmark comparison approach.

• Seeking simplification of the market dominance determination.

The STB said it will seek public views on the report.

Class 1 RR Employment Fell in March

April 23, 2019

Employment at Class 1 railroads slipped 0.58 percent in March compared with the employment levels of the previous month.

Statistics released by the U.S. Surface Transportation board found that the railroads employed 144,948 people in mid-March, which also was down down 0.11 percent compared with March 2018.

On a month-over-month basis, four of six employment categories saw declines.

This included executives, officials and staff assistants, down 2.45 percent to 7,928 employees; professional and administrative, down 2.33 percent to 11,424; maintenance of equipment and stores, down 1.86 percent to 26,478; and transportation (train and engine), down 0.28 percent to 61,673.

Increases were posted in maintenance of way and structures, up 0.89 percent to 31,861 employees; and transportation (other than train and engine), up 0.27 percent to 5,584.

On a year-over-year basis, employment levels fell in the categories of executives, officials and staff assistants, down 4.39 percent; professional and administrative, down 4.31 percent; maintenance of way and structures, down 1.76 percent; and maintenance of equipment and stores, down 0.42 percent.

Gaining on a year-over-year basis were transportation (other than train and engine), up 0.50 percent; and transportation (train and engine), up 2.28 percent.

STB Starts Review of Rule Change Proposal

April 10, 2019

The U.S. Surface Transportation Board has started a rule-making proceeding in response to a request that the agency change its railroad performance data reporting rules.

The American Chemistry Council is seeking the changes. The STB noted it has taken no position on the merits of the ACC’s petition, but is seeking more information about the issues that it has raised.

The Association of American Railroads has submitted a reply to the ACC petition.

The chemical shippers want Class 1 railroads and the Chicago Transportation Coordination Office to report certain service performance metrics on a weekly, semiannual and occasional basis.

Specifically, the ACC wants to see rules changed so as to include chemical and plastics traffic as a distinct reporting category, saying that its members use the data to identify, monitor and respond to service issues.

The ACC said having access to performance data helps its members to hold “collaborative discussions with carriers and allows shippers to suggest service adjustments.”

The AAR opposes additional commodity-specific reporting, saying that amending the STB’s performance reporting rules would impose ongoing costs and force railroads to make programing changes to their systems in order to comply.

The ACC and AAR were directed to provide additional information in support of their positions by May 6.

STB Vice Chair Outlines Agenda

April 10, 2019

The vice chairman of the U.S. Surface Transportation Board recently outlined the agency’s priorities, which include rate relief and determining reasonable rates.

He also cited overseeing the move to the precision scheduled railroading model by nearly all Class 1 railroads and preventing local regulation of railroads.

Speaking to the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association, Vice Chairman Patrick Fuchs apparently made no mention of on-time standards for passenger trains although that doesn’t mean the issue won’t come up.

He described relief and reasonable rates was the most consequentially task of the Board.

The STB is seeking alternatives to the current standard standalone cost test.

Fuchs said the Board expects to receive a staff report on that in the next two or three months.

That report is likely to start a public comment period for the rule-making process.

As for PSR, Fuchs said the Board is has been talking with railroads making the transition and has heard “many different stories across many different shippers.” Some stories have been positive and others much less so.

Expect the STB to preempt local regulation of railroads. “Congress gave the board exclusive jurisdiction over rail transportation . . . for good reason,” Fuchs says.

He said local regulation of railroads is a barrier to efficient transportation.

Texas Central Seeking STB Hearing

March 30, 2019

Would-be high-speed operator Texas Central is asking the U.S. Surface Transportation Board to hold a public hearing on the question of whether the agency has jurisdiction over the proposed Dallas-Houston rail line.

Opponents of the project have sought to block it by arguing that the STB does not have jurisdiction.

In its brief presented to the STB, Texas Central has asked the agency to interpret its jurisdiction over high speed rail and whether that will  will establish a significant precedent as additional high-speed rail projects are developed in the United States.

Texas Central hopes that this will allow STB members to examine the arguments and claims in back-and-forth questioning.

The case hinges on how the STB views a through-ticketing arrangement that it reached with Amtrak.

The STB could view this as evidence that Texas Central’s service is part of an interstate rail system, thus giving the STB jurisdiction.