Thursday, February 12, 2009

STB eyes freight rail fines for Amtrak delays

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Freight railroads, particularly Class I railroads, deemed responsible for delays to Amtrak passenger trains using their tracks could befined under new authority granted to the Surface Transportation Board.

Fines theoretically could be applied in past years, but Amtrak’s precarious political position made pursuit of such fiscal action improbable. But STB Chairman Charles Nottingham says a new law, passed by Congress last October, allows STB to pursue freight railroads determined to be negligent oruncooperative in expediting Amtrak trains. The goal is for 80% of Amtrak trains systemwide to reach on-time status.

stb logoFreight operators, for their part, have cited obstacles impeding their handling of Amtrak, such as slow orders, including those required for maintenance work, and mounting dispatching conflicts generated in part by increased freight traffic in recent years. Amtrak officials privately have acknowledged such arguments, though they also cite widely varying approaches and attitudes from different Class I railroads in dealing with the issue seriously.

Amtrak Chief Operating Officer William Crosbie, addressing STB, said, “On-time performance of our trains is highly variable,” with slow orders triggering many of the delays. “We want to make it very clear that the on-time performance of our trains is the linchpin of our success.”

Amtrak considers trains on its own Northeast Corridor to be on time if they arrive within 10 minutes of schedule, Crosbie said. Long-distance Amtrak trains are considered on time if they arrive within 30 minutes of the posted schedule.