Let’s Make Amtrak Run On Time.

I’ve done it and probably you have, too—sat in a Superliner roomette somewhere in the middle of Montana or Nebraska or Texas watching a 100-car freight go lumbering by while our train waits on a siding and falls farther and farther behind schedule. Toaster ovens from China get priority while we wait on a siding.
Furthermore, at this very moment in time, the Surface Transportation Board is considering a rule change that would essentially give even more flexibility to the freight railroads when it comes to handling passenger trains operating over their tracks.
NARP is on top of this, submitting formal testimony by President and CEO, Jim Mathews, to the STB. Of course he opposes the proposed change, pointing out that Amtrak’s overall On-Time Performance reached a remarkable 83 percent in 2012 which was a major reason for Amtrak’s surprising growth in ridership
And he describes what happened literally within days after an earlier decision by a court of appeals allowed the freight railroads to have more “flexibility” in the handling of Amtrak trains:
“. . . Reported freight interference incidents nearly tripled, and Amtrak’s on-time performance [fell] to 42 percent. The long distance trains were the most hard-hit; in a particularly extreme case, the on-time performance of the Capitol Limited plummeted to 1.6% in July of 2014.”
And—why are we surprised?—Amtrak subsequently reported that the increased delays and chronic late arrivals resulted in both ridership and revenue slipping by 15 percent.
See the pattern? With Amtrak trains running on time, government regulators decide to give freight railroads more “flexibility” in handling rail traffic. So freight dispatchers start giving more preference to their trains, causing Amtrak’s OTP to drop to unacceptable levels. With trains once again running late, Amtrak’s ridership declines, causing revenue to do the same. Less income means Amtrak has to ask for more government subsidy, and that pisses off John Mica and others of his ilk in Congress. They increase the pressure on Amtrak to reduce costs. And the next thing you know, Joe Boardman, is announcing that all departments have to cut 3.8% from their current budgets.
I know, I know … I over simplify. But let’s just run the damn Amtrak trains on time! It’s not that hard. Thirty million passengers a year will be happy and the toaster ovens don’t care.