Don’t Be Quick to Blame Amtrak!

As I write this , I am sitting on train 19 to New Orleans from

Culpepper VA. It’s 12:40 A.M. and we’re sitting behind a

freight train 9 miles from New Orleans. We’re already 3 hours

and 38 minutes late with no end in sight. Don’t EVER use

Amtrak, they are dishonest when they know you’ll never

make your arrival time.


I received this email a couple of nights ago. This guy certainly has the right to be upset. But while the information will eventually be available, I do not know why this particular train on this particulate day is running so far behind schedule.  My anonymous  e-mailing friend has come to the same conclusion most people do when their train is very late and their plans are disrupted: It’s Amtrak’s fault!

His train, the Crescent, is operating on track owned by one of the freight railroads and it’s very likely that a dispatcher for either CSX or Norfolk Southern or both has simply decided that his company’s train will proceed ahead of Amtrak.

That’s a big problem for Amtrak because there’s a cost in terms of customer goodwill . There’s also an out-of-corporate-pocket cost—estimated at $40 million a year—for hotel rooms and meal vouchers for all those passengers.

That’s the cost to Amtrak, but what about the cost to Amtrak passengers? In 2019, Amtrak’s long-distance trains—just the ones operating outside the Northeast Corridor—were late a total of almost two years! 

Just how bad is it? Here are On-Time Performance (OTP) records for a half-dozen of Amtrak’s long distance trains for the month of May, 2021.

Crescent (New York-New Orleans) 33%

Silver Star (New York- Miami via Tampa) 18%

Capitol Limited (Chicago-Washington,DC) 34%

Empire Builder (Chicago-Seattle/Portland 43%

Southwest Chief (Los Angeles-Chicago) 27%

Sunset Limited (New Orleans-Los Angeles) 21%