Get Out of Our Way Amtrak!

Get out of our way Amtrak

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.

According to Reuters:

“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…

Call Ted at (505) 908-1911 to find out how
we can serve your transloading needs.
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3 Comments

  • Nordic Cat

    Freight trucks must be phased out as much as possible, leaving only local delivery. Vast majority of national, especially long distance shipments must be and should be made by rail.
    It is absolutely ridiculous for trucks to complain about congestion as they are the ones who cause most of the congestion and unsafe conditions on public roads that they do not own. On the other hand, railroads own and maintain their right-of-way. Trucks make the entire nation to pay for them doing heir job. We all have to deal with their operations while freight trucks expect everyone to bend over for them. Should I expect everyone to move out of the way while I am performing my engineering job???????

  • Bill Claypool

    It is always interesting to hear comments from those opposed to intercity passenger rail. They conveniently forget Class-1 railroads in 1971 were offered an opportunity to “socialize costs” and “privatize profits” by the Nixon Administration. What business executive would not jump at such a chance?

    Still, Amtrak’s creation did not absolve the railroads of statutory requirements to provide passenger rail services. It only absolved them of the cost for doing so. Anyone who believes differently is revising history.

    Prior to Amtrak’s creation, railroads were subject to long-standing regulatory requirements to operate passenger rail services. This was their cost of doing business just the same as paying taxes.

    Since Amtrak’s creation, the Class-1 railroads have done an excellent job re-framing the informal definition of their industry. Over the past 45 years the Class-1s have coined a new term ‘freight-railroad” to describe their business. This is simple mission drift to shirk public responsibilities elsewhere in favor of shareholder profits.

    Laws still exist requiring the railroads to provide access to passenger trains. The recent ruling shows nothing more than the courts drifting away from the will of the people and toward corporate domination of the general public. Our democratic-republic has evolved into a plutocracy. This traveling public is nearly forced to the highway by decades of government meddling in what was an elegant transportation system.

    Consider the interstate trucking industry. Their massive public subsidies depend upon personal automotive use. So of course they would attempt to cast aside passenger trains in favor of federal and state investments in President Eisenhower’s National Interstate and Defense Highways act.

    Understand the societal costs of this highway culture. Some 35,000 people die each year on the nation’s roads. The Federal Highway Trust Fund is bankrupt. The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials performed a pavement test years ago. It showed every fully loaded 80,000 lb GVW semi trailer does the statistically equivalent damage as 9,600 automobiles. The trucks are energy and manpower inefficient.

    It is time to rethink again US transportation policy. There are many better ways to handle the increasing population of this nation. This should be movement away from trucks and back to railroads, both passenger and freight.

  • Richard Weil

    Bill Claypool’s response will remain much more insightful than mine. But just like a train can derail to one side or the other, Ted Keener’s blurb/blog hurtles down the track to the destination of shortsightedness and crashes. Devaluing intercity passenger service in favor of moving more merchandise to the Big Box warehouses by two hours emphasizes the wrong attributes for American Society as a whole. The attitude if it’s good for me than it’s good for everybody is only self-serving and disingenuous.

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