Thursday, March 31, 2016

AAR to STB: Your OTP metric is deficient

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Amtrak's Empire Builder, running several hours late on the BNSF northern tier line in 2014. Amtrak's Empire Builder, running several hours late on the BNSF northern tier line in 2014. Bruce Kelly

The Association of American Railroads, on behalf of its freight railroad members, has submitted comments to the Surface Transportation Board regarding STB’s proceeding, On-Time Performance under Section 213 of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 (Docket No. EP 726).

“These reply comments focus on Amtrak’s proposal, echoed by other commenters, that the Board should use an ‘all-stations’ on-time performance metric as an investigation trigger. . . . [T]he Board should not adopt an all-stations metric,” AAR commented. “Instead, the Board should use those on-time performance metrics Amtrak and the host railroads have adopted in their operating agreements, if applicable. Switching to an all-stations metric would create false positives for investigation because of the back-loading of recovery time in many of Amtrak’s schedules, in addition to conflicting with the operating agreements.”

“All-stations OTP is a deficient metric,” AAR said in its comments. “Amtrak now contends that an all-stations metric is the best way to measure on-time performance, but it did not advocate for an all-stations metric in its operating agreements with the freight railroads even though virtually all of the arguments Amtrak now makes in its comments were available when it negotiated those agreements. In any event, even if parties do not have an on-time performance metric in their operating agreement (or the Board thought it advisable to use an on-time performance standard to trigger investigations other than one rooted in the operating agreement), there are many flaws in selecting an all-stations metric for that function.”

A PDF of AAR’s complete 16-page commentary can be downloaded at the link below. Following is a summary:

“Most parties’ operating agreements measure on-time performance through arrival at the endpoint of each host’s segment (or at specified checkpoints) rather than at all intermediate stations. The Board should respect those parties’ chosen on-time performance measures and not adopt a conflicting investigation standard.

“An all-stations metric would not accurately reflect issues with the performance of Amtrak trains because many of Amtrak’s schedules have back-loaded recovery time. Relying on an all-stations metric as the trigger for investigations would lead to false positives—investigations arising from flaws in recovery time allotment and distribution, rather than from excessive train delays or preference violations.

“Adopting an all-stations metric would delay and add complexity to the Board’s establishment of an investigation trigger because it could not be meaningfully applied before Amtrak and host railroads renegotiate schedules to ensure that adequate time is allocated to every segment of the route.

“Amtrak’s arguments for an all-stations metric are unavailing. First, it is not correct that Congress and the ICC have “recognized” all-stations as the appropriate metric. Congress did not specify a particular way of measuring on-time performance for purposes of a PRIIA investigation trigger. Had it done so, this proceeding would not have been necessary. Further, to the extent substantive performance standards have any relevance here, following the ICC’s 1976 modification relied upon by Amtrak, Congress rejected an all-stations approach enforceable by fines in favor of requiring on-time performance to be addressed in operating agreements, leaving it to Amtrak and the host railroads to decide for themselves how to measure and incentivize on-time performance. Amtrak suggests that an endpoint metric ‘ignores the experience’ of Amtrak passengers who disembark at an intermediate station. But Amtrak and host carriers alike have long recognized that the on-time performance measures in many of their operating agreements and endpoint OTP both provide strongly correlated indications of overall on-time performance on a route, including performance at intermediate stations. And in cases where endpoint on-time performance is satisfactory but all-stations on-time performance is not, the immediate focus should not be a full investigation of all operations for the train, but review and consideration of whether recovery time for that train has been appropriately set for the entire route.”

“The AAR and its freight rail members recognize the importance of Amtrak, and we are committed to a reliable passenger rail service,” AAR spokesman Ed Greenberg told Railway Age. “It is a delicate balance in this country where the majority of passenger rail operates on tracks owned by freight railroads, which means trying to find that right transportation mix of serving the needs of passenger rail while ensuring our industry is continuing to meet the shipping requirements of freight customers in moving the country’s economy. Freight railroads take their contractual obligations seriously and comply with the law. On-time performance measurement is complicated involving many factors that are negotiated between Amtrak and the host freight railroad and we are asking the Board to respect the parties’ chosen on-time performance measures and not adopt a conflicting investigation standard.”


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