Amtrak Protests STB Policy Statement

Amtrak is arguing that a proposed U.S. Surface Transportation Board policy statement would give freight trains priority over passenger trains rather than the other way around.

In a Feb. 22 statement to the STB, Amtrak asked the federal regulatory agency to withdraw the policy statement because it  “ignores the plain and unequivocal language of Amtrak’s statutory right to preference, creates a new definition that eviscerates the right to preference, and draws broad, erroneous conclusions about relevant evidence based on that fundamental misinterpretation.”

STBAmtrak’s letter was referring to a statutory right of preference for passenger trains contained in the Amtrak Improvement Act of 1973.

The passenger carrier believes that if the policy change is approved then passenger trains running on tracks owned by freight railroads will experience a substantial increase in delays.

Nearly 97 percent of Amtrak’s route miles use tracks not owned by Amtrak.

The STB launched a rule making proceeding last year that seeks to create a definition of on-time performance for passenger trains hosted by freight railroads.

The proposed rule would only take into account a train arrival time at end points of the route.

Amtrak wants delays at en route stations to also be taken into account. The STB continues to solicit public comments on its proposals.

The National Association of Railroad Passengers also is calling for the STB to withdraw its policy statement on the preference change, saying the statement “overreaches federal law.”

NARP also believes that a change in policy would cause passenger rail-line delays, hinder on-time performance and lead to a costly toll on the rail-riding public.

“The STB issued this ‘policy statement’ behind closed doors and without any input from any outside parties and outside the formal rule-making process that is required,” said NARP President and Chief Executive Officer Jim Mathews in a statement. “As a result, regulators will change how intercity passenger services like Amtrak will be treated by host railroads, which have legal obligations to give passenger trains right of way.”

The Association of American Railroads has filed a statement in favor of the STB policy statement.

The railroad trade association argues that the passenger train preference legal standard is not absolute and “a host rail carrier need not resolve every individual dispatching decision between freight and passenger movements in favor of the passenger train.” The AAR’s statement can be found at:

Click to access 240185.pdf

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