Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Amtrak to STB: Intermediate stops count

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Amtrak’s Empire Builder running 7 hours late. Amtrak’s Empire Builder running 7 hours late. Bruce Kelly

In comments filed with the Surface Transportation Board’s Ex Parte 726, Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on On-Time Performance under Section 213 of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 (PRIIA), Amtrak says that the only viable method of measuring passenger train on-time performance on a host freight railroad is one that includes intermediate stations as well as endpoints.

Post Freight RankingUnder PRIIA, Amtrak may request an STB investigation to determine if poor on-time performance results from the host freight railroad denying Amtrak’s right of preference, a provision of the Rail Passenger Service Act, the 1970 legislation that established Amtrak. Following are a few highlights of Amtrak’s comments, which can be downloaded in their entirety via the link at the end of this article:

Amtrak agrees with the Board (Decision at 6) that the definition of “on‐time performance” under PRIIA 213 should (1) be meaningful, (2) be straightforward and able to be applied with ease and clarity, and (3) take into account past decisions of the Interstate Commerce Commission (“ICC”) regarding adequate passenger rail service.

[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—a measurement known as “All‐Stations OTP.” As both Congress and the ICC have recognized, All‐Stations OTP is the most inclusive and revealing measurement of Amtrak train performance. Therefore, the only appropriate definition of “on‐time performance” for purposes of triggering a PRIIA 213 investigation is All‐Stations On‐Time Performance . . . .

Conversely, measuring performance only at route endpoints, as in the Proposed Rule (“Endpoint OTP”), results in an incomplete, and in some cases distorted, picture of actual performance, significantly because it fails to take into account the experience of almost two‐thirds of Amtrak passengers.

Measuring performance only at the endpoints of Amtrak routes takes into account performance at only 10% of all Amtrak stations; leaves performance within 24 states unmeasured altogether since those states have intermediate stations but no endpoint stations; and leaves unaddressed the many routes where performance appears to be above 80% when measured only at the last station on the route, but is significantly and chronically less than 80% at stations all along the route.

[T]here exists no legal precedent, or practical reason, to prioritize the expectations or experiences of the 35% of Amtrak passengers who happen to be travelling to the 10% of Amtrak stations that comprise the final terminus on any given route, while ignoring the passengers disembarking at the remaining 90% of stations. In fact, quite the opposite: both Congress and the ICC have recognized that measuring performance at all stations provides a fuller and more accurate picture of performance. All‐Stations OTP is also simple and straightforward to calculate, and avoids subjective factors that can lead to protracted disputes.

“Poor on-time performance creates a major disruption for Amtrak customers in the form of delayed trains and missed connections,” Amtrak said in a statement accompanying its STB comments. “It also negatively impacts Amtrak and state-supported services through decreased ridership, lost revenues and higher operating costs. Amtrak is prepared to take all necessary steps to meet the expectation of our passengers to arrive on-time.”

Rail industry legal experts weighed in on the STB’s NPRM and its potential implications on the Law360 website, as reported by Linda Chiem:

Charles A. Spitulnik, partner, Kaplan Kirsch & Rockwell LLP: “The STB is clarifying that it’s a much slimmer margin. What they’re doing is making it clear that the slimmer margin applies in this context ... STB is the entity that has the authority to impose the sanctions, and they have to have a standard to use as a measure for imposing sanctions on the railroads.”

John D. Heffner partner Strasburger & Price LLP: Amtrak’s existing agreements with its host railroads impose penalties for poor performance and incentives for good performance, and “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.”

Among the interested parties submitting comments to the STB are Norfolk Southern Assistant General Attorney Garrett D. Urban, who said, “Any on-time metric will only be as meaningful as the standard against which tolerances are measured. The Board’s proposed rule implicitly adopts Amtrak’s published timetable as this standard. NS’s opening comments will demonstrate that many, if not most, Amtrak schedules cannot and have not provided a meaningful or realistic standard for assessing on-time performance.” NS believes that the proposed rule should factor in calculation of “allowances” or “thresholds” for determining if a train is on time.

”The Association of American Railroads has filed comments with the Surface Transportation Board that outline our position on the proposed rulemaking as the association and freight railroads, which host Amtrak trains, have a strong interest in the proposed rule, as the measurement of on-time performance is complicated involving many factors,” AAR spokesman Ed Greenberg told Railway Age. “The AAR and its freight railroad members 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."

Others agree with Amtrak’s insistence on including intermediate stops in on-time performance calculations. Said the Southern Rail Commission: “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. To access host railroad tracks, Amtrak is 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.”

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