Private passenger car organizations' statement to Trains News Wire

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The 2011 AAPRCO special makes its way north from Fort Worth, Texas, to Newton, Kan., BNSF Railway's Red Rock Subdivision.
Keel Middleton
EDITOR'S NOTE: This letter is a response to Trains News Wire regarding comments Bennett Levin made about private passenger car owner safety and behavior. The story is published online.

In order to respond properly to your request, it is necessary to put the alleged actions in context in view of Amtrak’s abrupt, unexpected announcement to eliminate charter trains and to reduce drastically the handling of private cars effective immediately upon the publication in a notice to Amtrak employees. Despite the extreme hardship that the policy entailed, we continue to respect and understand that, with new leadership, Amtrak is analyzing and reviewing all aspects of train operations. In light of the most recent developments, we have asked formally to meet with Amtrak’s President and CEO, Richard Anderson, in order to see how we can be better partners and support Amtrak where it would be beneficial to both parties.

Released on March 28, the policy and the related administrative actions stemming from it imposed immediate limits on private car movements requiring that moves would be permitted only from a terminal to terminal basis. Intermediate stops would be allowed only where the “dwell time” was one-half hour or more. Cars currently stored or lodged in formerly permitted locations were frozen in place and cars already in route on regular Amtrak trains were forced to change their schedules at significantly higher costs. Cars on the California Zephyr, for example, were not allowed to transfer to the Coast Starlight and were forced to return to Chicago.

The policy also stated that with a few “narrow exceptions” special trains, even those with a long history of operation, would cease to operate “effective immediately.” This action resulted in major costs of disruption.

In view of these acute problems, it is not surprising that some tourist railroad organizations, charterers, private car owners, and car owner associations have sought help from their legislators in view of the fact that Amtrak is a government approved monopoly receiving aid from the legislature.

For their part, the American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners (AAPRCO) and Railroad Passenger Car Alliance (RPCA) sought an immediate hearing with Amtrak’s senior management. The directors were referred the Director of Amtrak Services. The Director was provided with a list of intermediate stops in order of importance to the members of the two organizations, an analysis of station dwell times, and suggestions to improve the efficient handling of private cars. We are awaiting a response.

With respect to the issue of safety, both AAPRCO and RPCA have active safety committees. RPCA prepared a safety manual for all members and AAPRCO issued it to members, with some modifications particular to the management of private cars. Both organizations consider safety of primary importance. AAPRCO has denied membership to car owners who have a “poor safety” record. Not all car owners, however, are AAPRCO or RPCA members. Both organizations have investigated and take action on the occasional violations of our membership.

With respect to the criticisms relating to AAPRCO’s convention trains, Taylor Johnson, AAPRCO’s longtime Vice President of Transportation notes:

“Safety is everyone's responsibility! AAPRCO is obsessed with special train safety. Over the past 20 years we have organized and operated around 25 trains traveling over 30,000 miles (600,000 passenger car miles) in the U.S. and Canada. Our safety protocol is documented and we solicit operational feedback from our host railroad operating teams in the spirit of continuous improvement. To ensure conformance, we require all operators to participate in an extensive safety review in advance of every trip. Additionally, we have a dedicated train team with well-defined responsibilities who exclusively interface with the railroads and ground support. We also utilize a unique internal radio frequency in every car to communicate train status, servicing updates and coordinate safe egress. We have had no FRA reportable accidents or injuries in the history of AAPRCO special trains.”

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.

W. Roger Fuehring, RPCA President

Robert G. Donnelley, AAPRCO President

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