The following release was issued by the Environmental Law & Policy Center:
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court’s March 9 decision affirming Amtrak’s power to create on-time performance standards could get slumping Midwest arrival times back on track.
“This is a good Supreme Court decision that should help rail passengers across the country,” said Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, which filed an amicus curiae brief in the case. “For every passenger who has been delayed for hours in Northwest Indiana or outside of Cleveland while oil tanker cars slog by, today’s court decision can be an important step forward.”
The Association of American Railroads challenged a federal law that allows Amtrak to help set on-time performance standards for railroads, arguing that Amtrak is a private company rather than a government entity. The Supreme Court, agreeing with the Department of Justice and ELPC, held that Amtrak is more like a government entity.
The DC Court of Appeals had struck down a provision of the 2008 rail reauthorization bill that instructed the Federal Railroad Administration and Amtrak – consulting with the Surface Transportation Board, freight railroads, states, rail labor, and rail passenger organizations – to develop metrics and minimum standards for measuring Amtrak passenger train performance and service quality.
“Today’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling settles that legal question,” Learner said. “Amtrak is a government entity. Given this ruling, the existing on-time performance standards should be enforced and passenger rail should again be given priority.”
In an amicus curiae brief filed by ELPC, on behalf of itself and the National Association of Railroad Passengers, All Aboard Ohio and Virginians for High Speed Rail, ELPC found that on-time arrival rates had suffered since the appeals court ruling. In 2012, Amtrak achieved a nationwide on-time performance rate of 83 percent. Since the standards were invalidated by the Court of Appeals, on-time performance fell to an abysmal 42 percent.
While this is a major victory for Amtrak passengers across the nation, the Supreme Court’s ruling does raise the possibility of a lengthy court fight should the Association of American Railroads seek to continually litigate other issues around on-time performance.
“The highest court in the land has spoken and we hope that freight railroads will move forward as a partner to improve passenger rail service across America,” added Learner.
WASHINGTON – Amtrak is taking action to improve the on-time performance (OTP) of its trains that operate over tracks controlled by other railroads. In a complaint filed on Nov. 17, Amtrak is asking the Surface Transportation Board (STB) to investigate Norfolk Southern Railway and CSX Transportation for causing unacceptable delays for passengers traveling between Chicago and Washington, D.C., on the Capitol Limited service.
Amtrak is taking this action under Section 213 of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act which mandates that the STB initiate an investigation upon the filing of a complaint by Amtrak if the on-time performance of an intercity passenger train falls below 80 percent for two consecutive quarters. In addition, under federal law, Amtrak has a statutory right to preference in the dispatching of intercity passenger trains before freight trains.
Due to persistent excessive delays caused by NS and CSXT freight train interference, the OTP of the Capitol Limited at its endpoint terminals was 2.7 percent for the quarter ending Sept. 30, down from an already substandard 33.6 percent the previous quarter. The delays are continuing as Amtrak had to provide bus transportation between Toledo and Chicago for six days in October to better accommodate passengers when Capitol Limited trains had often been eight to ten hours late.
Poor on-time performance creates a major disruption for Amtrak customers due to delayed trains and missed connections. It also negatively impacts Amtrak and state-supported services through decreased ridership, lost revenues and higher operating costs.
Amtrak has taken additional actions to help improve the OTP of passenger trains including filing an amended complaint with the STB seeking an investigation of Canadian National Railway for causing unacceptable delays for passengers on the Illini/Saluki service in Illinois; twice testifying before the STB about the poor OTP of Amtrak trains; and establishing a Blue Ribbon Panel of rail and transportation leaders to identify infrastructure and operational improvements to address rail traffic gridlock in Chicago.
The Capitol Limited operates daily between Chicago and Washington, via Harpers Ferry, W. Va., Cumberland, Md., Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Toledo, South Bend, Ind., and intermediate stops.