RPA Takes Freight RRs to the Supreme Court.
I really hate hearing passengers trash Amtrak for being “always late”, because the implication is that late trains are Amtrak’s fault. The truth is, Amtrak long-distance trains operate on track owned by the freight railroads and it’s dispatchers for the freight railroads who decide which trains get priority. Much of the time—probably most of the time—when an Amtrak long-distance train is late, it’s because the freight railroad’s dispatchers have diverted Amtrak onto a siding and given priority to their trains.
And they’re not supposed to do that!
Back around 1970 when Amtrak was created, the private railroads operated passenger trains under close regulation by the federal government. But passenger trains were losing buckets of money and the railroads desperately wanted to get out of the passenger business. The feds said, “OK, we’ll let you stop running passenger trains if you will contribute either money or equipment to get Amtrak started and” –Here comes the critical point– “if you will agree to give Amtrak passenger trains priority when they’re operating over your track.” The freight railroads agreed.
Well, that was then; this is now. So how are the freights doing when it comes to running Amtrak trains on time? Answer: Not so good. In some cases, piss poor.
But now the freight railroads have gotten together and are trying to wriggle out of that original agreement altogether. A complicated legal argument has been developed that centers around a critical issue: who gets to set the standards for Amtrak’s on-time performance. With the invaluable assistance of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, we—meaning the Rail Passengers Association—are appealing to the United States Supreme Court, asking for a once-and-for-all decision on this most fundamental of all questions: Who should decide when a train is late?
“This fight has gone on long enough,” said Jim Mathews, RPA’s President and CEO. “For decades, rail passengers have been left waiting for freight trains to clear the rails. Even acts of Congress haven’t been able to budge them out of the way. We need the courts to now recognize and allow Congress’ goal to be carried out.”
Well, how’s Amtrak doing under the current system? You can see for yourself. Click here for a link to where the OTP (on time performance) for every Amtrak train is listed. Consider: if these are the “scores” Amtrak trains are getting now, what will their on-time performance look like when the freight railroads are the ones deciding what’s late and what isn’t?