Happening Now

More Than Half of Amtrak Routes Late Enough for Enforcement

August 8, 2022

By Jim Mathews / President & CEO

Of 43 individual routes Amtrak operates, during Fiscal 2022's second quarter 24 of them had customer on-time performance bad enough to justify some kind of enforcement action by the Surface Transportation Board if Amtrak were to seek it, new data released this morning show.

Fiscal 2022’s second quarter is the first time that we can say under the new Federal Railroad Administration rules for passenger-rail performance whether routes made the grade or flunked. That’s because it takes two full quarters of data to underpin a formal complaint.

Looking at the new data, 23 percent of Amtrak trains subject to the new rules failed to meet the new standard. Thirteen percent of trains did not operate during either one or the other of the two newly tracked quarters, while FRA reports that 64 percent met the new standard.

Using Customer OTP as the yardstick, passengers getting off at any stop -- endpoint or intermediate -- can't be any more than 15 minutes later than the published arrival time, and trains must now meet that standard at least 80% of the time. If Amtrak delays fall below that standard for two consecutive quarters, Amtrak or its state customers can lodge a complaint.

The Surface Transportation Board could also independently choose to investigate a route or group of routes that meet the trigger criteria.

Routes that have now reached the enforcement trigger threshold are: the Palmetto; the Piedmont; the San Joaquins; Northeast Regional service to Richmond, Newport News, and Norfolk, Virginia; the Pennsylvanian; the Carolinian; the Pere Marquette; the Texas Eagle; the Cascades service; the Lake Shore Limited; the Coast Starlight; the Crescent; the Cardinal; the Wolverine; the Illini/Saluki; the Blue Water; the Empire Builder; the California Zephyr; the Southwest Chief; the Auto Train; the Silver Star; the Sunset Limited; and the Capitol Limited.

Notably, 14 of the 15 long-distance routes could, theoretically, qualify for enforcement or investigation. Only the City of New Orleans, with its first-quarter score of 80 percent, would not make that list.

Seven routes met the standard in one of the quarters but not the other, which would mean they don’t meet the two consecutive quarters test and therefore don’t fall into the enforcement category. Two of the seven – Missouri service and the New York City to Niagara Falls run on the Empire service – improved enough to get over the 80 percent mark in the second quarter of FY 22. Five others were above the 80 percent mark in the first fiscal quarter but dipped below it in the second: Northeast Regional service to Roanoke, Illinois’ Carl Sandburg/Illinois Zephyr, the City of New Orleans, and the Heartland Flyer.

Throughout the Amtrak system, the five top performers in Customer OTP are all well above the 80 percent mark. Among long-distance trains, all five top performers failed the standard, but one came close – the Palmetto notched 79 percent Customer OTP in the second fiscal quarter. The second-best long-distance train could only manage 64 percent (the City of New Orleans). Tied for dead-last among all trains – whether Long Distance or anywhere in Amtrak’s system – were the Sunset Limited and the Capitol Limited, with customers arriving on time only 29 percent of the time, according to FRA.

Recall that during our July webinar, Amtrak told us they not only are pressing Host Railroads on negotiated solutions to freight-train interference, they’re also assessing how to go to the Surface Transportation Board after many straight quarters of dismal on-time performance to enforce our new and hard-won passenger rail performance metrics and standards.

Because the STB has the authority to undertake an investigation under its own initiative, we here at your Association will rely on that authority to alert STB to the problems we see and to encourage STB to initiate investigations. We will gather up your stories, assess and collate the performance data, and file formal undocketed correspondence with the Board to ensure that your voices are heard.

As part of that process, we also need to hear from you, and so do your members of Congress and your Senators. Look at the very top of this web page. We’ve created a special tool to make that easy, painless, and nearly automatic to do. It’s labeled "Take Action Against Late Trains!" and next to it is a blue button that says CLICK HERE.

When you go to the link, you’ll see a space on the right side labeled “Message Body,” and in that box we ask you to “please add your own story about this issue to personalize your message.”

Here is where we ask you to type in your own experiences with late trains. Share details about the weddings you missed, or the hospital visits, or the graduations, or whatever other inconvenience you experienced. And that’s it! We’ve completed the rest of the message for you. All you need to do is include your name, your email address, and your phone number and click the big green button that says, “Send Message.”

If you don’t include your mailing address, our system won’t be able to find your members of Congress, so that’s an important thing to include.

We’re gathering up those stories, and we’ll use them in our messaging to the STB. But we can’t share what we don’t get, so I’m urging everyone to use this tool to share your story with Congress and with us so that we can keep fighting for your right to be on time. It’s at the very top of this webpage. Today’s data show that there are a lot of routes that should get regulators’ attention.

And if you want to read the FRA’s entire second-quarter metrics and standards report, click here to read the full summary.