WASHINGTON – This morning, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) issued a News Release and a Final Rule on the Performance and Service Quality of Intercity Passenger Rail. Amtrak released the following statement:
“Amtrak believes our customers deserve to arrive on time. A dozen years ago Congress agreed and passed a law calling for a minimum standard for on-time performance and allowing for railroads to be investigated – and possibly fined – if freight trains are prioritized ahead of passengers. This landmark rule establishes a minimum standard that 80% of Amtrak customers on a given train should arrive at their destination within fifteen minutes of their scheduled arrival.
“This is a victory for Amtrak customers and for anyone who believes people and communities across the country deserve a world-class passenger rail network with schedules that you can count on. For too long, many freight railroads have put their cargo ahead of our passengers – in direct opposition to the law. This rule will help Amtrak enforce its rights when they are violated, in order to get you to your destination on schedule.”
Starting 10 years ago, on behalf of the freight railroads, the Association of American Railroads used the courts to try to block these metrics and standards. The hard work of the FRA and the support of many other stakeholders overcame a decade of delays in reaching this critical milestone, a fight that twice reached the U.S. Supreme Court.
The rule fulfills the intent of Congress to create a framework to help ensure that Amtrak customers arrive at their destination on time, and if they do not, the responsible parties are held accountable. If the standard is not met, the Surface Transportation Board can investigate, and if it finds that the poor performance was attributable to a failure to provide Amtrak passengers with preference over freight trains, damages and other relief can be awarded.
While this rule finally provides a potential enforcement mechanism for on-time performance – if the Association of American Railroads doesn’t try to block the rule’s implementation again – more must be done to build a world-class passenger rail network. We will continue to ask Congress to allow Amtrak to enforce its right to preference over freight transportation that is already the law – just like any other company can defend itself when its rights are being violated.