Late Trains: Still a Problem.
Something more has to be done about the inconvenience and expense late trains cause ordinary people, most of whom can’t really afford it. Depending on a number of factors, Amtrak compensates many of the passengers whose travel plans are disrupted because of late arrivals. Several years ago an Amtrak executive told me that late trains cost the railroad an estimated $140 million a year . . . and Amtrak sure as hell can’t afford it!
Most of the time, when a long-distance Amtrak train is seriously delayed, it’s because of freight traffic. “Well of course that’s the reason,” people say. “The freight railroads own the tracks, so naturally their trains have priority. Amtrak is just a tenant.”
But, say the rest of us, why is that sufficient reason to inconvenience and cause extra expense to fare-paying, tax-paying passengers?
Good question! Back around 1970, when the federal government allowed the railroads to phase out of the money-losing passenger business, Amtrak was created to fill the gap. Built into the agreement was the stipulation that Amtrak would pay an agreed-upon rate when their trains ran on track owned by the freight railroads and, in retun, passenger trains would get priority treatment by the freight railroads dispatchers.
Say again? Amtrak trains would get priority? What the hell happened to that part of the deal? More to the point, why does Congress permit toaster ovens and TV sets from China to have higher priority than tax payer/travelers?
By the way, this problem is not unique to the United States. I’m leaving Toronto tonight heading for Vancouver on VIA Rail’s train #1, the Canadian. It operates on track owned by the private freight railroads here. This train is scheduled to depart at 10:00 p.m., but when I took this same train several years ago, the eastbound train had been seriously delayed by heavy freight traffic. By the time VIA crews got the consist cleaned, serviced, re-fueled and re-stocked, we finally departed for Vancouver at 5:30 a.m., seven-and-a-half hours behind schedule right out of the gate.