After nearly 10 years of a contentious battle involving Amtrak and its host freight railroads that twice reached the U.S. Supreme Court, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has published a final rule establishing metrics and minimum standards for measuring the performance and service quality of Amtrak’s intercity passenger trains.
The metrics and standards of the rule, 49 CFR Part 273 [Docket No. FRA-2019-0069; Notice No. 3] RIN 2130-AC85, “Metrics and Standards for Intercity Passenger Rail Service,” are grouped into four categories: on-time performance (OTP) and train delays, customer service, financial, and public benefits.
The final rule requires Amtrak and its host freight railroads to certify Amtrak schedules, and sets an on-time performance minimum standard of 80% for any two consecutive calendar quarters. It also defines the metrics of ridership, train delays, train delays per 10,000 train-miles, station performance and host running time.
The final rule’s “singular on-time performance standard gives customers, Amtrak, the host railroads and other stakeholders a method to objectively gauge Amtrak trains,” FRA said.
“Everyone relying on one standard means that when problems arise, we can all speak the same language to work toward a common goal,” Federal Railroad Administrator Ronald L. Batory added.
According to FRA, the final rule “may result in lower operational costs for Amtrak to the extent it results in improved OTP, which may reduce labor costs, fuel costs and expenses related to passenger inconvenience, and provide benefits to riders from improved travel times and service quality.”
FRA issued its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in March, and hosted a telephonic hearing April 30. It received more than 320 written comments by the June 1 deadline.
Editor’s Commentary: The FRA has clearly put the responsibility of scheduling passenger trains into responsible hands. Provided Amtrak and its host freight railroads do what needs to be done, the rulemaking—if sought—should fulfill Amtrak customer expectations consistently and keep the matter of on-time performance away from the Surface Transportation Board and/or the courts for third-party resolution. This rulemaking is yet another collaborative achievement led by the FRA engaging stakeholders not unlike that seen with PTC under FRA Administrator Ron Batory. – William C. Vantuono