Posts Tagged ‘on-time performance’

Amtrak’s On-Time Performance in Cleveland Has Been Pretty Superb Over the Previous Month

April 20, 2020

Seeing Amtrak in daylight in Northeast Ohio has been happening much in the past month because the trains have arrived mostly on time during the darkness hours. Shown is a very late eastbound Lake Shore Limited at the Cleveland Amtrak station on June 23, 2010.

The past month would have been a good time to travel on Amtrak from Northeast Ohio.

Due to social distancing orders during the COVID-19 pandemic, the public has been discouraged from traveling except when necessary.

That has led to lightly patronized Amtrak trains. Want a window seat in the middle of your coach? No problem; you can sit anywhere you’d like.

But perhaps a side benefit of traveling by train during a pandemic would have been a good chance your train would have arrived in Cleveland on time or better.

Despite its reputation for being the “Late Shore,” the Chicago-New York/Boston Lake Shore Limited has posted some outstanding on-time performances.

A check of arrival times for the four Amtrak trains serving Northeast Ohio between April 19 and March 23 found that No. 48 has arrived late in Cleveland just three times.

During the 28-day period sampled, No. 48 arrived early 25 times. It didn’t just arrive early it arrived well before its scheduled 5:38 a.m. arrival time.

In fact, No. 48 arrived in Cleveland 10 minutes or more ahead of schedule 22 times and 12 of those times it was 20 minutes or more early.

The earliest that the eastbound Lake Shore has arrived was 28 minutes, which it has done three times while checking in 27 minutes early six times.

Westbound counterpart No. 49 arrived early into Cleveland 20 times over the 28-day period and in all of those instances it was five minutes or more ahead of schedule.

No. 49 has been 10 minutes or more ahead of schedule seven times.

The performance of the Capitol Limited has been a tale of two trains.

The westbound Capitol has been early into Cleveland 16 times with seven of those being five or fewer minutes ahead of schedule and nine being more than five minutes early.

No. 29 has halted at the station more than 10 minutes early eight times.

Eastbound No. 30, though, has easily been Amtrak’s latest train into Cleveland over the past month, arriving early just nine times.

No. 30 has arrived late on 18 of the 28 days reviewed and on 12 of those occasions it was more than 10 minutes late.

It is noteworthy that over the course of 112 train arrivals, only twice has a train been reported as arriving in Cleveland at the exact time shown in the timetable. The Capitol Limited did it once in each direction.

Only seven times out of 112 arrivals have Amtrak trains arrived in Cleveland an hour or more behind schedule.

All but once the lateness was less than two hours. The exception was the westbound Capitol pulling in 4 hours and 42 minutes late on April 3.

That delay was largely due to a grade crossing collision near Columbiana, Ohio.

These figures may or may not be aberrations that are related in some manner to the fallout of the pandemic.

A valid comparison with on-time arrival and departure times reported for the same dates in past years would be needed to begin addressing that question.

Given that Amtrak has complained loudly and often in recent years about poor on-time performance of its trains that it has blamed on dispatching practices of it host railroads there is some reason to wonder if the pandemic has resulted in better Amtrak performances.

It could be that falling freight traffic combined with fewer freight trains being operated as part of the precision scheduled railroading model that Amtrak has to contend with less freight train interference.

It might also be that even fewer freight trains are operating during the pandemic because freight traffic has fallen even further as reported by the Association of American Railroads in its weekly freight traffic reports.

With fewer passengers, Amtrak has less opportunity for passenger-related delays. Trains can load and unload quicker and that might have enabled better timekeeping.

I noticed but did not record a few instances in which a train arrived in Cleveland a few minutes late but was able to leave on time.

All four Amtrak trains serving Cleveland have dwell time built into their schedules although it varies by train.

It is six minutes for No. 29, nine minutes for No. 30, and 12 minutes for both Nos. 48 and 49.

Some of the good timekeeping may also be simply good fortune, such as fewer freight train mechanical failures that can back up traffic as dispatchers try to route Amtrak and their freights around a stalled train.

It remains to be seen if Amtrak’s good fortune in Northeast Ohio on-time performance will last.

Supreme Court Won’t Take On-Time Case

February 28, 2018

The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected a request by Amtrak to review a lower court decision that found the Surface Transportation Board cannot assume regulatory authority that is granted to Congress.

The high court’s decision means that a last effort by the federal government to revive the delegated authority will be decided by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

In a July 2017 decision, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals decided that the STB lacked the authority to establish regulatory standards for “on-time performance” in exercising its power to require freight railroads to give “preference” to Amtrak trains. See, Union Pacific Railroad Co. v. Surface Transportation Board, 863 F.3d 816 (8th Cir. 2017).

The Union Pacific case was one of two in which courts considered challenges to a portion of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008.

That law delegated to the Federal Railroad Administration and Amtrak the joint power to establish metrics and standards to define “on-time performance,” and gave the STB power to penalize railroads that fail to meet the standards.

The other case was Association of American Railroads vs. U.S. Department of Transportation.

In the latter case, the railroad trade organization challenged the joint FRA/Amtrak authority as an unconstitutional delegation of governmental power to Amtrak because it is a for profit entity.

The appellate court in that case sided with the AAR, ruling that the law constituted a violation of the Fifth Amendment’s due process clause to give Amtrak, “an economically self-interested actor,” the power to regulate its competitors.

Following that decision, the STB sought to establish the on-time standards itself, which led to the Union Pacific case.

The district court in Washington has set oral arguments for March 5 in what remains of the AAR case.

During that hearing, the federal government and Amtrak will be seeking to have the court reinstate the joint rule-making authority of the FRA and Amtrak by narrowing the court’s previous decision and striking down only a portion of the offending PRIIA provision.

Appeals Court Strikes Down STB On-Time Standards

July 18, 2017

Another federal court has struck a blow to the efforts of the U.S. Surface Transportation Board to establish on-time standards for Amtrak trains.

The Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found the STB standards to be unconstitutional, saying that the STB had “exceeded its authority” in creating the standards.

The appeals court ruling came in the wake of a similar U.S. Supreme Court decision that development of on-time metrics by the Federal Railroad Administration and Amtrak as directed by Section 207 of 2008’s Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act was unconstitutional.

In the Eighth Circuit ruling, Chief Judge Lavenski R. Smith acknowledged that the absence of on-time standards would make it impossible for the STB to investigate or adjudicate disputes brought by Amtrak against its host railroads in the event that punctuality fell below 80 percent for two consecutive quarters.

However, the court in essence decided that the STB’s inability to measure on-time performance is not a problem for the judiciary to solve.

There are two cases pending before the STB in which Amtrak alleges that host railroads needlessly delayed Amtrak trains.

One case involves the handling by Canadian National of the Saluki and Illini between Chicago and Carbondale, Illinois, while the other regards Norfolk Southern’s handling of the Capitol Limited west of Pittsburgh.

In both cases, Amtrak contends that dispatching decisions made by the host railroads are delaying its trains.

The STB had contended that it had the legal right to establish on-time standards “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.”

Supporting the STB’s position were 13 intervenors, including the National Association of Railroad Passengers and its state affiliates, and the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

Challenging the on-time standards were Union Pacific, CSX, CN and the Association of American Railroads.

They argued that the “gap-filling rationale does not allow one agency to assume the authority expressly delegated to another.”

The court found that the only place in federal law 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.

Although the court let stand Congress’ setting a statutory right of passenger train “priority” over freight trains, the practical effect of the court decision is that Amtrak has no way to challenge a host railroad’s systematic denial of that right.

Instead, the only motivation for railroads to keep Amtrak trains on time are the proprietary and confidential incentive contracts Amtrak has been able to negotiate with its host railroads pertaining to on-time handling.

The only action Amtrak can take against a host railroad would be to refuse to make incentive payments due to non-performance under the terms of its operating contract with a host railroad.

The court rulings do suggest that Congress could give the FRA a mandate to establish on-time standards provided that Amtrak was not a participant in the writing of those standards.

STB Issues Two Rulings in Passenger Cases

July 29, 2016

The U.S. Surface Transportation Board this week decided that it would consider on-time arrival and departure performance at all stations along a passenger train’s route for purposes of assessing overall on-time performance.

STBThe STB said in a news release that it deem a train to be “on time” if it arrives at or departs from a station no more than 15 minutes after its scheduled arrival or departure time.

In a related decision, the STB said it is withdrawing a proposed policy statement on issues that may arise and evidence to be presented in proceedings under the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 in favor of a case-by-case approach.

“Reflecting careful consideration of an extensive public and stakeholder response to our most recent passenger rail proposals, these decisions will better position the Board to implement its responsibilities under the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008,” said Board Chairman Daniel R. Elliott III in a statement. “Improved passenger train on-time performance is an important goal, and the Board’s decisions will support that goal by clarifying the trigger for starting a proceeding, while allowing more complex and detailed issues to be resolved in the context of individual cases.”