CP-NS combination would affect Amtrak little

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The northbound Adirondack glides on Canadian Pacific rails into Saratoga Springs, N.Y., in February 2014. From an Amtrak passenger point-of-view, a CP-Norfolk Southern combination would make little difference.
Bob Johnston
WASHINGTON — Norfolk Southern carries significantly more Amtrak traffic than Canadian Pacific, but the two railroads face many of the same operating challenges and seem to share a comparable passenger train-handling philosophy.

It is an important point should a proposed CP buyout of NS move forward.

Well before Hunter Harrison became CP’s chief executive, the railroad’s dispatchers have done an excellent job co-mingling Amtrak’s eight combined Hiawatha and Empire Builder Chicago-Milwaukee round-trips Monday through Saturday (seven on Sunday) with their own heavy freight traffic and frequent Metra commuter trains. The Hiawathas regularly achieve more than 90 percent on-time performance as they weave between the two mainline tracks, helped recently by more publicly-funded crossovers.

NS dispatchers have no commuter trains but much more freight traffic when dealing with seven Michigan- and East Coast-bound daily round-trips on the other side of Chicago to Porter, Ind., where a capacity-expanding project is also underway. Although that segment melted down a year ago, since then — and especially within the last month — delays have been substantially reduced. For instance, from Nov. 1 through Wednesday, Nov. 18, the westbound Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited were either early or no more than 15 minutes late into Chicago on 70 percent of the arrivals.

Norfolk Southern’s on-time performance through August for the 2015 fiscal year operating an 1,150-mile, all-NS segment of the New York-New Orleans Crescent is a less-than-stellar 50.9 percent. Canadian Pacific has also had trouble with the 173 miles of the New York-Montreal Adirondack that it operates north of Schenectady, N.Y, clocking in at 56.5 percent.

Other routes that NS hosts are shown below with route and train details:
City combinations Miles Trains
Harrisburg-Pittsburgh 249           Pennsylvanian
Pittsburgh-Cleveland-Chicago 481           Capitol, Lake Shore Limited, Pere Marquette,
          Wolverines, Blue Water 
Kalamazoo-Detroit 143           Wolverines and Blue Water
Selma-Charlotte 202           Piedmonts, Silver Star, Crescent
Petersburg-Norfolk, Va. 81           Northeast Regional

The Cardinal also runs on portions of NS’s route to and from Washington, D.C., shared with the Crescent, as do Virginia Railway Express commuter trains to Manassas, Va. 

Norfolk Southern dispatches trains out of regional centers, while Canadian Pacific U.S. dispatchers are centralized at St. Paul, Minn., but Amtrak has faced host consolidations many times before. The passenger carrier experienced substantial delays when NS and CSX Transportation divvied up Conrail and especially when Union Pacific tried to impose its will on Southern Pacific, but anecdotal evidence to date suggests that at least from a passenger standpoint, an NS-CP marriage wouldn’t be catastrophic.

Amtrak declined to provide Trains News Wire a statement regarding the proposed consolidation. 
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