Railroad reacts to Amtrak 'report card'

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Amtrak's westbound Capitol Limited passes through Goshen, Ind., on March 24, 2018. The train was two hours late into Elkhart, Ind., because of congestion on Norfolk Southern's main line.
TRAINS: David Lassen

WASHINGTON – Just one railroad contacted by Trains News Wire has chosen to comment on the grade it received in Amtrak’s “Host Railroad Report Card” issued last week.

That report card gives failing grades to Norfolk Southern and Canadian National, a C grade to CSX, a B- to Union Pacific, a B+ to BNSF and the highest marks to Canadian Pacific. The report notes that the host railroads are “highly profitable” and that Amtrak pays them $142 million annually for use of their tracks and other resources needed to operate passenger trains.

Amtrak has been collecting data on the duration and causes of delay to its trains since at least 2009 and has been publishing this data in monthly reports since then, as required by the 2008 passenger rail authorization law. But the report issued last Tuesday marked the first time the passenger carrier has given each of its Class I host railroads a letter grade based on the number of minutes of host-caused delay per 10,000 train miles.

Trains News Wire reached out to the three lowest-ranked host railroads for comment, but so far, only CSX Transportation has chosen to respond.

“While the issue of on-time performance is more complex than a single letter grade implies,” a CSX spokeswoman said, “we are committed to working with Amtrak to meet our contractual obligations to them, and to support passenger rail as a safe, efficient transportation alternative in the U.S.” She added that CSX hosts more passenger trains than any other U.S. host railroad and “takes Amtrak’s performance very seriously.”

Neither Norfolk Southern nor Canadian National has responded to Trains News Wire’s request for comment.

Amtrak’s report explains, “An “F” host forces Amtrak trains on a particular route to wait one hour and 40 minutes on average for freight trains, and forces many Amtrak trains on this route to wait as long as 3 hours and 12 minutes. As a comparison, suppose you were on a flight and your plane had to circle the destination airport for one hour and 40 minutes while cargo flights were given priority to use the runway.”

The report also faults the U.S. Department of Justice for failing to enforce the government corporation’s statutory right of preference over freight trains in dispatching, and says the incentives it pays hosts for good performance have little impact. “Freight railroads suffer no significant consequences for prioritizing their freight over our country’s rail passengers,” Amtrak claims.

“Union Pacific, CSX, Norfolk Southern and Canadian National are also the railroads in the news for being unable to keep their freight deliveries on time,” Trains columnist Fred Frailey notes in a blog post. “As I’ve discovered time after time, passenger trains are the canary in the coal mine. When they cannot make their achievable schedules, it usually means the host railroad is also in a world of woe.”






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