Finally, a federal court ruled last month that parts of the 2008 Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act infringes on the rights of private freight carriers. The court said that Amtrak, a government entity, wields considerable advantage in its competitive battle for scarce track.
So that’s one in the eye for you Amtrak!
Last month I wrote an article on how traffic congestion added $49.6 billion operating costs to the trucking industry. The American Transportation Research Institute’s report stated the delays associated with traffic congestion are equivalent to 264,781 commercial truck drivers sitting idle for an entire year!
Railroads are also not immune to significant costs associated with congestion. Chicago is one of the largest rail chokepoints in the country. It can take a freight train up to 30 hours to get from one side of Chicago to the other. An organization called CREATE was set up to deal with the problem and seems to be making incremental progress.
However the fly in the ointment for the class one railroads has always been Amtrak, the legendary never on time, government owned, unprofitable, passenger rail network. They have been operating under a competitively unfair (for the class one railroads) mandate given to them by law.
For more than 40 years Amtrak has been operating under the assumption that they have preference over freight rail. This means that the freight railroads have to pull over their trains whenever possible to let a passenger train pass, or hold their trains in station to prioritize an Amtrak departure. So the freight trains suffer delays as a consequence.
To add insult to injury the 2008 Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act added potential financial penalties into law. It stated that if Amtrak’s on-time performance was less than 80% for any two consecutive quarters on specific freight routes, the freight railroads could be fined.
According to the Wall Street Journal the US Surface Transportation Board, a federal agency that regulates railroads, signaled a turn in the tide in December by stating that
“Currently we do not view the preference requirement as absolute.”
This was followed in April by the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit striking down parts of the 2008 Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act.
“The court said the problem stems from the fact that Amtrak, a government-owned, nominally for-profit entity, has regulatory authority over the industry in which it participates. Freight carriers and Amtrak compete for the use of the same tracks, the court noted. The railroad law allows Amtrak and the U.S. Federal Railroad Administration to work jointly on the regulations.”
So my reading of this is that freight railroads won’t get fined if Amtrak can’t run on schedule and secondly Amtrak don’t get to go first every time. That means the freight railroads suffer a lot less delays!
As far as I’m concerned that’s a big win for us and yet another reason for shipping by rail!
As always I’m here to help with any of your rail transportation needs. Call me at (505) 908 – 1911!
Now if only the Hyperloop was up and running…