Amtrak to feds: Count delays at all train stops

Amtrak is pushing federal regulators to reverse course on a proposal to measure the on-time performance of freight railways that it frequently shares tracks with only at the end points of train routes. 

The company says the proposal, from the Surface Transportation Board, would result in delays at stations that are along its routes that operate on tracks that are owned by freight rail companies being vastly underreported. 

"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," Amtrak said in comments submitted to the panel this week.

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The company added that "measuring performance only at the endpoints of Amtrak routes takes into account performance at only 10 percent of all Amtrak stations." It also "leaves performance within 24 states unmeasured altogether since those states have intermediate stations but no endpoint stations," Amtrak said.  

Most of Amtrak's routes outside of the northeast are operated on tracks that are owned by freight rail companies, which have pushed for the change in the definition of trains being on-time. 

The group that lobbies for freight companies in Washington, the Association of American Railroads, said opponents of the proposal to change the way the one-time performance of trains is measures are oversimplifying the complexity of keeping track of the promptness of railways. 

"The AAR and freight railroads, which host Amtrak trains, have a strong interest in the proposed rule as the measurement of on-time performance is complicated and involves many factors," the group said in a statement that was provided to The Hill. 

"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,” the statement continued. 

Under the proposal to switch to endpoint arrival measurements, "a train is deemed to be 'on time' if it arrives at its final destination within five minutes of its scheduled arrival time per one hundred miles of operation (capped at 30 minutes)," according to the freight rail panel.  

Passenger advocacy groups said Wednesday that the proposal to only count train delays at the ends of lines would disenfranchise riders who board trains in the middle of Amtrak and commuter rail routes. 

“Late and delayed trains are the most significant cause of passenger dissatisfaction, which can discourage people from traveling by rail,” National Association of Railroad Passengers President Jim Mathews said in a statement.  

"Through the [rulemaking proposal], the STB is telling Americans in 24 states that don’t have endpoints, or more than half the states served by Amtrak, that regulators don’t care if their train is on time," he continued. "Under STB’s proposal, some 90 percent of Amtrak stations’ OTP would never be measured, and that’s not fair to people who depend the rail service." 

Amtrak, meanwhile, said it "is prepared to take all necessary steps to meet the expectation of our passengers to arrive on-time" as the freight rail panel weighs its complaints.

"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 after its comments were submited to the panel.

"It also negatively impacts Amtrak and state-supported services through decreased ridership, lost revenues and higher operating costs," the company concluded.  

The full notice of the proposed on-time performance rule change can be read here