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Any real effort to "restore" passenger train priority?


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#1 me_little_me

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Posted 08 June 2018 - 02:08 PM

Seems like nothing has happened in years and nobody is making an effort, either in the courts or with congress, to "restore" passenger train priority. All that is happening is that on-time performance sucks for LD trains but Amtrak is cutting onboard service (discussed elsewhere).

 

Is anyone privy to any information about what specific actions have been taken in the past year or 6 months by either Amtrak's wonderful new CEO or his predecessor in regards to a resolution?



#2 Thirdrail7

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Posted 08 June 2018 - 04:07 PM

I'm not sure how you missed Amtrak's challenges and the various lawsuits from 2012 that made it all the way to the Supreme Court. The ruling came last year that Amtrak may not participate in developing regulations regarding preference. Here is the Cliff Note version:

 

 

 


 

The STB with 13 supporting “intervenors,” including the National Association of Railroad Passengers and its state affiliates plus the U.S. Conference of Mayors, argued that it had the right to establish metrics “by virtue of its authority to adjudicate complaints brought by Amtrak. Any other result would gut the remedial scheme, a result Congress clearly did not intend.”

But the court accepted the argument of petitioners Union Pacific, CSX Transportation, and CN, with the Association of American Railroads as intervenor, that the “gap-filling rationale does not allow one agency to assume the authority expressly delegated to another.”

It found that the only place in the statute where the 80 percent standard was spelled out was in section 207, which the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional because Amtrak had a hand in developing it.

Congress’ statutory right of passenger train “priority” over freight trains remains, but the ruling means that Amtrak has no way challenge a host railroad’s systematic denial of that right. The strongest tardiness deterrent falls to the proprietary and confidential incentive contracts Amtrak has with freight carriers for on-time handling, but other than not paying the incentives for non-performance under whatever those terms are, the passenger operator will have no enforceable yardstick unless Congress authorizes the FRA to develop a new standard without input from Amtrak.

 

 

The last thing I heard is the FRA was trying to come up with a policy.  However, the freight lobby is also on the case, making their presence felt...just as they did with this ruling.

 

AS of now, there isn't much of a solution...or penalty unless someone offers them a ton of money for passage (and it would have to be more than tehy could make on their own...which isn't likely) or the states  terrorize the freights into complying on a local level ***cough coughVirginiacough cough***


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#3 jis

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Posted 08 June 2018 - 04:37 PM

Maybe Virginia can take this opportunity to correct their original error of not acquiring the RF&P when they could have done it for much cheaper. :D



#4 neroden

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Posted 13 June 2018 - 11:04 AM

As I pointed out last year at the RPA meeting, it is still possible for Amtrak to sue individually for each individual case of failure to provide dispatch preference across junctions, providing a dossier for each indivdual case.  This is established by the original statutory preference requirement and the legal principle that there is no right without a remedy; straight-up civil lawsuit for each individual instance where an Amtrak train was not given preference at a junction, asking for money damages.

 

This is generally considered a scorched-earth strategy as the freight railroads would *really hate it*, but the real problem is that Amtrak management doesn't seem to be willing to assemble the dossiers.  Admittedly that's *extensive* legal work compared to an overall "pattern of delay" case, but suing over each individual delay is not affected by the recent court or STB rulings. It's just something Amtrak hasn't bothered to do.


Edited by neroden, 13 June 2018 - 11:05 AM.

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#5 Anderson

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Posted 13 June 2018 - 12:14 PM

Given the level of damages on each delay that seem likely, I can't help but imagine Amtrak and one of the Class I railroads facing off in small claims court.
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#6 Lonestar648

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Posted 13 June 2018 - 03:09 PM

I can't remember how many years, but quite a while ago, a few friendly Senators and Representative threaten the freights with starting Congressional Hearings on detailed investigation on how Amtrak was handled on a train by train basis.  The freights suddenly had Amtrak running close to on time, at least for a year or so.  It appeared that the freights did not want specifics on how they did their dispatch process to be aired publicly, so it was easier to push Amtrak through than make these few in Washington mad.


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#7 Cho Cho Charlie

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Posted 14 June 2018 - 08:07 AM

I'm not sure how you missed Amtrak's challenges and the various lawsuits from 2012 that made it all the way to the Supreme Court. The ruling came last year that Amtrak may not participate in developing regulations regarding preference.


I'll admit, this isn't something I have much first hand knowledge about. A lot of what I know, is from what I read here (and there), which could have easily been wrong.

Doesn't Congress have the right to develop regulations regarding preference? And didn't Congress do exactly that, back when it formed the National Railroad Passenger Corporation?

I thought Congress wanted to keep the remaining independent (freight) train companies from interfering with their new passenger service, and part of that, was to give their new passenger service schedule priority on using tracks.

Now (please), explain it to me like I'm a four-year-old.
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#8 jis

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Posted 14 June 2018 - 08:50 AM

 

I'm not sure how you missed Amtrak's challenges and the various lawsuits from 2012 that made it all the way to the Supreme Court. The ruling came last year that Amtrak may not participate in developing regulations regarding preference.


I'll admit, this isn't something I have much first hand knowledge about. A lot of what I know, is from what I read here (and there), which could have easily been wrong.

Doesn't Congress have the right to develop regulations regarding preference? And didn't Congress do exactly that, back when it formed the National Railroad Passenger Corporation?

I thought Congress wanted to keep the remaining independent (freight) train companies from interfering with their new passenger service, and part of that, was to give their new passenger service schedule priority on using tracks.

Now (please), explain it to me like I'm a four-year-old.

 

In a nutshell, a law passed by Congress enabling development of specific performance metrics to drive enforcement of OTP regulations was found to be unconstitutional by the SCOTUS, and so here we are....

 

All of the regulations from previous exercises are still around regarding granting priority etc., but lacks clear cut enforcement mechanisms at this time. The enforcement mechanisms, such as the ones that exist, as described by neroden and others, are apparently considered to be too onerous even by those that have a standing to try to use them.



#9 amtrakpass

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Posted 14 June 2018 - 10:21 AM

One trouble I have observed is that not a lot of people outside rail operations seem to really understand how dispatching works.People seem to think their are these mathematical "slots" and perfect windows and if you miss that, all timekeeping goes out the window. Yes something like the NEC, Metro North, LIRR lines or busy Chicago Metra lines have turns figured out to the minute. But an extra train in the mix isn't the end of the world. The dispatchers are professionals.
And as far as class one freight lines, yes the intermodal trains have departure times and usually run at or close to schedule. But other than that, as far as dispatching, the dispatcher on class one's is just going to run what comes first as efficiently as possible most of the time, taking into account which crews are short on time etc....
In my mind, there really shouldn't ever be delays of more than 2 hours even on a Long Distance trip unless you have a crossing incident, a derailment, or severe winter storm type of event.
If there are consistent delays to Amtrak of more than 2 hours, the STB should investigate and take action.
On the other hand, I don't think the class one's should be fined for things like 5 or 20 minute delays because stuff does happen.

However, Amtrak passengers should be able to depend and count on their guaranteed connections without having to worry.
Therefore,in my opinion, the host railroad should be held reponsible for all the cost of Amtrak missed connections. Say of an hour and a half or 2 hours or more.
If a law was passed for that reason, you might eliminate a lot of the more serious delays. Believe me,if the hot guaranteed UPS train is in danger of missing the cutoff arrival time, the freight railroad dispatchers are going to give them some good signals to try to make it.
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#10 John Bobinyec

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Posted 14 June 2018 - 10:57 AM

I don't believe the fault is with the dispatchers per se.  As you say, they run what they're given with what they've got.

 

On the other hand, when a railroad closes a line or a yard which cause traffic to be shifted onto a busy line or into a busy yard so that the result is too much traffic on a particular line, which results in passenger train delays - the STB should order the reopening of the line or yard and/or the rerouting of freight traffic so that delays no longer occur.

 

The incentive there is that the freight companies will put their best effort forward in order to avoid any government "help".

 

jb

 

PS - Another classic is the EHH 2-mile long special with broken knuckles tying up the railroad but good.  In such a case the STB should step in and save the freight railroad from itself since it affects freight shipments, too.


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#11 amtrakpass

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Posted 14 June 2018 - 11:40 AM

John, you make excellent points. There certainly has been too many yard or line closures with little action from the STB. I wish the STB would be much more proactive in general which would help both the freight and passenger industry in spite of themselves.

One other frustration for me is how little understanding there is of how road and yard train crew productivity relates to mainline capacity regardless of infrastructure.

If you have a well run rail yard, the crews will get the trains in and out and switched as quickly as possible which frees up space on the main line because trains keep moving.

On the other hand, if a rail yard is managed poorly with the crews in fear of the managers, they are going to move slowly just to try to keep their jobs. Which reduces rail capacity exponentially across the United States much more than people realize.

Now also, some people don't realize that there are still well run yards and main lines that get things done pretty quickly and efficiently most days.
Railroading isn't a totally lost art.

However, it is important to realize that large companies are often not homogeneous.For instance, one division or yard or mainline on UP, BNSF or NS for example might be run well. Another yard or line within the same company might be run very slow and inefficiently.
But once a yard or Division is run badly and the crews slow down, it is hard to get the culture back up to speed without some real good experienced leadership.
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#12 Thirdrail7

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Posted 14 June 2018 - 04:33 PM

However, Amtrak passengers should be able to depend and count on their guaranteed connections without having to worry.
Therefore,in my opinion, the host railroad should be held reponsible for all the cost of Amtrak missed connections. Say of an hour and a half or 2 hours or more.
If a law was passed for that reason, you might eliminate a lot of the more serious delays. Believe me,if the hot guaranteed UPS train is in danger of missing the cutoff arrival time, the freight railroad dispatchers are going to give them some good signals to try to make it.

 

I'm not an apologist for the freights, but this seems a bit unreasonable and difficult to enforce. I say this because Amtrak typically travels over more than one host. Which host should bear the responsibility if a train is 30 minutes late off the connecting territory but you couldn't wait thirty minutes to run you hot shot? These delays are often cumulative. 

 

Additionally, someone is allowing these railroads to merge and reduce capacity, which has led to a lot of the problems, particularly if there is track work or any other type of incident that causes delays.


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#13 amtrakpass

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Posted 14 June 2018 - 06:15 PM

thirdrail7, I respect that you want to be fair and reasonable to the frieghts. I want them to be successful too.
But I humbly disagree that holding the hosts accountable for the cost of 2 hour or more delayed Amtraks is unreasonable or difficult to enforce.

With all the trackside aei scanners everywhere, it is known as a matter of record exactly when trains are interchanged. If the Amtrak train departed on-time and had no enroute mechanical failures it will be exactly clear where the delay was and recorded in the computer system.
If it's an hour delay on one railroad, and then an hour delay on the next, the law could either be written to divide the cost between the two hosts or be 100 percent on the first for handing it off late. Or 75 to 25 on the first host.

The fact of the matter is the railroads already have these types of things in their interchanges with each other. For instance, there is a through intermodal train that runs from Los Angeles to New Jersey, on the BNSF to Chicago, and NS the rest of the way. There is a certain amount of time the NS has to swap the power out in Chicago or the delay is on them. And vice versa when the BNSF had to reroute the train via Kansas City recently because of a derailment,the delay was on them.

Anyway I am just saying we should have some reasonable regulation for on time performance. Nothing too exacting, but if a freight railroad can't run a couple of measely daily Amtraks within 2 hours of schedule they need to get their act together.
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#14 Devil's Advocate

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Posted 14 June 2018 - 06:48 PM

I'm not an apologist for the freights, but...Amtrak typically travels over more than one host. Which host should bear the responsibility if a train is 30 minutes late off the connecting territory...someone is allowing these railroads to merge and reduce capacity, which has led to a lot of the problems...


You can't seem to decide if the problem is too many hosts or too few. To which I can only say, to thine own self be true.


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#15 Thirdrail7

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Posted 14 June 2018 - 07:11 PM

 

I'm not an apologist for the freights, but...Amtrak typically travels over more than one host. Which host should bear the responsibility if a train is 30 minutes late off the connecting territory...someone is allowing these railroads to merge and reduce capacity, which has led to a lot of the problems...


You can't seem to decide if the problem is too many hosts or too few. To which I can only say, to thine own self be true.

 

 

If you bother to read and comprehend before typing,you'd notice  I never actually said there was a problem with too many or too little hosts. I only stated that holding one operator accountable for the actions of the another operator that delivers a late train may be unreasonable.

 

That being said, having only one host would not necessarily eliminate the problem. You see, when you allow a lot of mergers, duplicate routes are often downgraded, merged, sold off or abandoned. When that happens, that can lead to capacity constraints as the operator flood the remaining routes. This leaves little room for error and problems snowball as congestion mounts.

 

One only need to look at CSX for examples.


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#16 Devil's Advocate

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Posted 14 June 2018 - 08:05 PM

 

 

I'm not an apologist for the freights, but...Amtrak typically travels over more than one host. Which host should bear the responsibility if a train is 30 minutes late off the connecting territory...someone is allowing these railroads to merge and reduce capacity, which has led to a lot of the problems...


You can't seem to decide if the problem is too many hosts or too few. To which I can only say, to thine own self be true.

 

If you bother to read and comprehend before typing,you'd notice...

 

Rather than get into a debate over the risks of aggressive capitulation I'd rather just ask how you would go about handling the stick portion of the donkey motivation metaphor.  So far as I am aware Amtrak already has the carrot covered.


Edited by Devil's Advocate, 14 June 2018 - 08:05 PM.

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#17 Seaboard92

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Posted 14 June 2018 - 08:43 PM

For those who don't understand dispatching there is a very good freeware simulator named Train Dispatcher 2 it also comes with over a hundred territories that can give you a good grasp of what a dispatcher does.

The best territories to understand what goes on is the Seaboard Airline Mainline from Raleigh to Richmond which is a single track mainline that in the simulator has ten scheduled passenger movements, plus about thirty freight movements. It also doesn't include troop extras, and other freight extras.

What makes it particularly difficult is that just like the real world the sidings are of varying length. You lose one point for every minute of lost running time, and five points for every minute a passenger movement is late arriving.

So it challenges you to juggle meets, keep trains moving, and keep the railroad fluid. Which is a lot harder than one expects.

Another great territory to control for learning purposes is CSX Cincinnati terminal. It has roughly 200 different movements between CSX, Amtrak, and Norfolk Southern. It's difficult to keep trains rolling in the bottle neck a, as well as routing trains to the proper destinations. Especially around the yard where there is a single track bottle neck that can often times have three trains backed up each side trying to get around.

Lastly I would recommend the fictional Ohio High Speed Railroad because it is exclusively double track with sections of four tracks. Every movement has a schedule, with express, limited stop, and locals. Tor task is to keep them on schedule, and route express trains around slower locals without anyone losing time.

The game also has Grand Central in rush hour, Penn Station New York, and Many other territories. Playing can teach you an understanding of what dispatchers deal with everyday.

It's actually a game developed by one of the companies that built the CTC systems for computers.

It only works on XP and earlier computers.
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#18 Thirdrail7

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Posted 14 June 2018 - 09:27 PM



 

Rather than get into a debate over the risks of aggressive capitulation I'd rather just ask how you would go about handling the stick portion of the donkey motivation metaphor.  So far as I am aware Amtrak already has the carrot covered.

 

The REAL problem is the "carrot." 

 

Here's the thing about attempting to muscle and/or bribe a company that has money: they don't care. CSX would rather spend their own money and be free of passenger service than take the carrot and be stuck with passenger service. The "threat" of fining them means nothing if they can make more running their own trains. During the 1990's, an officer in CSX once famously declared how much he disliked Amtrak and would rather pay the fines.

 

One of the things Amtrak can do is be consistent with the help and be prepared to heavily invest in your partner's infrastructure.

 

Along with that, when hosts are threatening to reduce capacity, the states and Amtrak should step up and assist with the improvements, and demand strict accountability for their efforts. A perfect example is when BNSF wanted to get rid of the Devil's Lake Sub, the FRA, Amtrak and BNSF split the cost of improving the line. If I'm not mistaken, Maryland contributes to CSX's Old Main Sub to alleviate pressure on the Metropolitan Sub, which allows MARC trains to run with less interference.

 

However, that only works if there is an actual interest in a mutually beneficial relationship.

 

BNSF is extremely helpful because they look at the performances incentives as income. It is free(?) money to them. As previously mentioned, what good is money, incentives etc to someone that is indifferent (at best) or downright hostile (at worst) to your presence? All the money VA put into the former RF&P sub to expedite the movement of passenger trains means nothing if CSX refuses to cooperate.You can fund improvements, build bypasses, put in switch heaters, or even give them your interpretation of fair market rate. If they aren't interested in the carrot, it remains just another excuse.

 

Call it what it is. Some people aren't interested in the carrot. Knowing that, you have two real choices. Hope someone with deep pockets will assist you with establishing an incentive program that will improve capacity and make the hosts feel as though you're a partner and not a squatter. The other choice is to hope someone with legislative chops can terrorize the hosts into cooperation. However, the barn door to that was partially closed when the railroads were allowed to reduce capacity.

 

I'm afraid the only stick we can find is too small to motivate the donkey. So, now we must find a big enough carrot to feed it...because in the spirit of honesty, if I operated a freight line, I would appreciate the extra money Amtrak paid for the maintenance/inspections that allowed me to operate at a higher speed. However, before I decided if the Amtrak or my freight would take the siding, I'd definitely look at the balance sheet.


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#19 Thirdrail7

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Posted 14 June 2018 - 09:51 PM

thirdrail7, I respect that you want to be fair and reasonable to the frieghts. I want them to be successful too.
But I humbly disagree that holding the hosts accountable for the cost of 2 hour or more delayed Amtraks is unreasonable or difficult to enforce.

With all the trackside aei scanners everywhere, it is known as a matter of record exactly when trains are interchanged. If the Amtrak train departed on-time and had no enroute mechanical failures it will be exactly clear where the delay was and recorded in the computer system.
If it's an hour delay on one railroad, and then an hour delay on the next, the law could either be written to divide the cost between the two hosts or be 100 percent on the first for handing it off late. Or 75 to 25 on the first host.

The fact of the matter is the railroads already have these types of things in their interchanges with each other. For instance, there is a through intermodal train that runs from Los Angeles to New Jersey, on the BNSF to Chicago, and NS the rest of the way. There is a certain amount of time the NS has to swap the power out in Chicago or the delay is on them. And vice versa when the BNSF had to reroute the train via Kansas City recently because of a derailment,the delay was on them.

Anyway I am just saying we should have some reasonable regulation for on time performance. Nothing too exacting, but if a freight railroad can't run a couple of measely daily Amtraks within 2 hours of schedule they need to get their act together.

 

Your argument is entirely simplistic and is devoid of realism.

 

Those couple of measly Amtrak that often run at higher speeds, stop, sit in stations, have to operate on certain tracks while they work stations instead of being able to be routed anywhere are like linebackers, attempting to cut through the middle of the pack. Recently, there was an alert about the Crescent. 20 had to sit in siding for almost two hours because there were freight trains littered in every siding for 70 miles. So, it was held for a wave of south bounds+train 19. When the wave passe,d they back 20 out of the siding it was in (behind two freights) and allowed it to proceed.That is because congestion is at an all time high, particularly since railroads have a tax and payroll incentive to shed extra capacity.

 

While a lot of congestion has been caused by longer trains and the associated problems, there are a great many delays caused by weather, trespassers, grade crossing incidents, police interference and track improvements.  Let's say you're CSX, and NS just handed you a train that is 30 minutes late due to the police closing the tracks. Would you be agreeable to paying the fines? How much is it going to cost you to run that train over yours? How long are you willing to delay YOUR MANY customers and delay your trains for as you put it "a couple of measly trains?"

 

Furthermore, what if an Amtrak departs on time but is delayed assisting passengers. Would you allow the host to say "it departed the first stop late because it needed...(insert any Amtrak related delay)' so all bets are off?

 

 

I don't ever see a law as you've proposed written. I can see it as part of an operating agreement that is based on an influx of capital. However, when that happens, you'll see even more than what you see now: the freights refusing to operate the trains during outages or long term improvements.


Edited by Thirdrail7, 14 June 2018 - 09:53 PM.

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#20 amtrakpass

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Posted 14 June 2018 - 11:00 PM

thirdrail7, I appreciate your inside knowledge of Amtrak and know it is a great plus to this form that you take the time to contribute. Especially when you can confirm or refute facts that have only been rumor. However I ask you to remember that you are not the only person with rail industry knowledge.
I stand by my comment that if a railroad cannot handle running a couple of Amtrak trains a day within a few hours of schedule they should be held accountable. Your comments make running the railroad seem much more complicated than it actually is. To have a few short trains running at 80mph and have station stops besides the long freights at 50, 60 or 70mph is not brain surgery. It's been done well by many people and companies over the years. The railroads are built to run trains!
If it is not being done without major delays such as your crescent example, then either the host railroad has not hired enough crews, bought enough engines or built enough track.
And if is so busy, they are overwhelmed in the short term then they are making more than enough money to hire more people and build some more capacity and buy some engines.
If they are unwilling to do that, while their balance sheet shows billions in profit, then we need more serious regulation than just about Amtrak on time performance.




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