Train delays: what to do?

Frustrated Amtrak passengers wait at the Cleveland station for 5 hours on Sept. 29, 2014 for freight railroad CSX to give train #49 the all-clear. Norfolk Southern delivered this train to CSX 3.5 hours late, so it left Cleveland 8.5 hours down. On this day, all four Amtrak trains across Northern Ohio were delayed 6+ hours -- sadly a common occurrence in recent months. Read below how All Aboard Ohio is taking action and how you can help!

Frustrated Amtrak passengers wait at Cleveland’a station for 5 hours on Sept. 29, 2014 for freight railroad CSX to give train #49 the all-clear. Norfolk Southern delivered this train to CSX 3.5 hours late, so it left Cleveland 8.5 hours down. That day, all 4 Amtrak trains across Northern Ohio were delayed 6+ hours — sadly a common occurrence in recent months. Read below how All Aboard Ohio is taking action and how you can help! (Ken Sislak photo)

Was your Amtrak train delayed today by freight? Was your Amtrak train stopped while freight trains rolled by? Or did you hear from the conductor if a signal problem or track work was to blame? If so, that’s still the freight railroad’s responsibility as they own, maintain and manage the tracks/signals for nearly all of America’s Amtrak trains, including those that pass through Ohio.

If so, it is VERY IMPORTANT that you submit a complaint e-mail to the federal Surface Transportation Board at STBHelp@stb.dot.gov, including:

  • your train’s number (it’s on your ticket/reservation confirmation);
  • the approximate time(s) and location(s) of the delay(s);
  • the date(s) of the incident(s); and
  • why you believe the delay was caused by the freight railroad.

Please also copy your e-mail to your Senators and Representative in Congress, too! Freight railroads are required by federal law to give Amtrak trains priority over freight trains.

All Aboard Ohio is taking action! We are supporting legal action against the freight railroads and we are asking the Ohio Department of Transportation to release funds to address infrastructure improvements to ease rail traffic congestion. READ MORE HERE and read the latest NARP Hotline blog.

What is causing these horrific Amtrak delays?

  1. Heavy and worsening rail traffic volumes — passenger ridership is at the highest since the 1960s, intermodal freight (containers, trailers) traffic is at record highs, oil shipments are at record highs, and shipments from a record harvest will make delays even worse. If misery loves company, freight shipments are also being delayed causing complaints by shippers;
  2. Norfolk Southern dispatching software was installed in January at its Dearborn, MI traffic control center which oversees NS’s busy (up to 90 trains a day) Chicago Line west of Cleveland. The “self-learning” software needs a lot of debugging — so much so that NS crews are calling the software “Hal” in reference to the malevolent computer in “2001: A Space Odyssey”;
  3. Inadequate capacity of rail infrastructure, including the design of Northern Ohio passenger train stations which force Amtrak trains to process passengers from only one track of the two-track Chicago Line. The result is that half of Ohio’s four nightly Amtrak trains must run against the flow of traffic and thus “slalom” from one track to the other to stop next to station platforms.

Your voice counts!! Please share with All Aboard Ohio any responses you receive from the Surface Transportation Board, your Senators or Congressperson by e-mailing us HERE. Thank you!

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Feds ask Norfolk Southern for Amtrak reliability improvements

Booming levels of freight and passenger rail traffic are clogging Norfolk Southern's (NS) Chicago Line across Northern Ohio. This is causing serious delays to Amtrak passenger trains and prompted the federal Surface Transportation Board to demand answers from NS. All Aboard Ohio believes a global solution engaging NS, Amtrak, federal, state and regional officials can provide short-term relief and long-term development of the rail corridor to support economic growth.

Booming levels of freight and passenger rail traffic are clogging Norfolk Southern’s (NS) Chicago Line across Northern Ohio. This is causing serious delays to Amtrak passenger trains and prompted the federal Surface Transportation Board to demand answers from NS. All Aboard Ohio believes a global solution engaging NS, Amtrak, federal, state and regional officials can provide short-term relief and long-term development of the rail corridor to support economic growth (All Aboard Ohio photo).

In a recent letter to Norfolk Southern Corp. (NS), the federal Surface Transportation Board (STB) has asked NS how it will address serious on-time performance problems of Amtrak passenger trains using NS tracks. The STB, which regulates railroads, noted serious on-time performance problems in recent months experienced by Amtrak passenger trains that use NS tracks from Chicago east into Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and to the East Coast.

OCTOBER 17 UPDATE: See NS’s response to the STB’s letter HERE.

Specifically mentioned in the STB’s letter were Amtrak’s daily Capitol Limited (Chicago-Washington DC) and Lake Shore Limited (Chicago-New York City/Boston) services which make daily stops in the Ohio cities of Bryan, Toledo, Sandusky, Elyria, Cleveland and Alliance. Also affected were several Michigan routes — the Wolverine service to Metro Detroit, the Blue Water to Port Huron and the Pere Marquette to Grand Rapids. Combined, these five routes carried 1.5 million passengers in 2013 on 14 trains a day — a daily average of 294 riders per train. Ridership was growing in most years since 2000 on these routes until these rail traffic delays occurred.

Under federal law, if a host freight railroad fails to meet an 80 percent on-time performance standard for Amtrak passenger trains in two consecutive quarters, then the STB may impose large fines payable to Amtrak and prescribe remedies such as funding plans and physical improvements that address traffic choke points. The metrics for determining Amtrak on-time performance are the subject of a freight-railroad court challenge to be argued before the Supreme Court in December. All Aboard Ohio supports Amtrak in this matter.

In its Oct. 6, 2014 letter, the STB requested the following information from NS:

  • The primary causes of delays experienced by Amtrak trains on NS lines.
  • Locations where delays occur most frequently.
  • Measures that NS is taking to improve Amtrak performance, including but not limited to expansion of network capacity and resources, changes to train dispatching protocols and procedures, and modifications of network operating plans.
  • NS’s expectation of when Amtrak service will improve.

In August 2014, on-time performance fell on the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited routes to 4 percent and 16 percent, respectively. Average delay per arrival was four hours. For most of the summer, All Aboard Ohio has noted the delays were occurring west of Toledo and especially in zones where new track construction is occurring along the rail corridor which has two parallel tracks. This includes new third main tracks added between Goshen-Elkhart, IN and Porter, IN-Illinois state line. Meanwhile the Englewood Flyover is being built southeast of Chicago to separate a busy at-grade rail-rail crossing of the Metra Rock Island District and NS’s Chicago Line. However, these were designed in 2010 to address rail traffic levels of four years ago — not the boom in rail traffic which has occurred since.

Since the summer, the area of worst rail traffic congestion expanded east to between Toledo-Cleveland where high-priority Amtrak trains and NS intermodal freight trains snake their way through lower priority freight trains awaiting fresh crews. These delays were made worse by errors caused by NS’s new Auto-Router computer-aided dispatching software.

The design of passenger stations is also a factor in causing delays by constraining the throughput capacity of the NS rail corridor. All Northern Ohio stations are limited in their ability to process passengers from more than one track, requiring passenger trains to run against the flow of rail traffic half of the time to reach a station platform. This “slalom” causes up to 80 minutes of delay per day to Amtrak trains and at least as much delay to NS freight traffic. The Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) awarded funding to the Elyria station project but similar stations projects are needed corridor-wide.

Rep. Marcy Kaptur and others in the Northern Ohio Congressional delegation are seeking to transfer to the Northern Ohio Rail Alliance (NORA) a federal appropriation of nearly $1 million unused by ODOT since 2010 to carry out the objectives in its State Rail Plan to facilitate the movement of goods and people by rail. The funding would allow NORA to identify current and future rail traffic choke points from the growth of freight and passenger traffic and to propose solutions to those constraints.

“The STB’s letter should be a rallying point for all stakeholders to join forces to tackle these worsening rail traffic delays and implement long-term solutions that ensure economic growth,” said Ken Prendergast, Executive Director of All Aboard Ohio.

END

Good news in Ohio & Indiana!

Cincinnati-Chicago route (All Aboard Ohio graphic)

Cincinnati-Chicago route (All Aboard Ohio graphic)

Good news in Ohio:

Hamilton County commissioners want Cincinnati-Chicago high-speed rail study

Sep 24, 2014, 5:38pm EDT
Chris Wetterich
Staff reporter-
Cincinnati Business Courier

Hamilton County commissioners unanimously voted Wednesday to sponsor a potential Cincinnati-to-Chicago high-speed rail project and ask the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments to fund a feasibility study for it.

The resolution passed by commissioners was a big first step toward making the project a reality. A study would develop a cost estimate and outline exactly what would need to be done to increase the frequency of trains between Cincinnati and Chicago at speeds of up to 110 mph. At that speed, travelers would be able to travel from Cincinnati’s Union Terminal to downtown Chicago’s Union Station in four hours.

The feasibility study is estimated to cost $150,000.

The vote “is a bold move forward toward creating multiple transit options for the people of Greater Cincinnati that in turn will become the catalyst for jobs and development in the OKI region,” said Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune. Portune, a Democrat, leads both the OKI Regional Council of Governments board and the Hamilton County Transportation Improvement District.

READ MORE AT:
http://www.bizjournals.com/cincinnati/news/2014/09/24/hamilton-county-commissioners-want-cincinnati.html

CLICK HERE FOR HAMILTON COUNTY COMMISSIONERS’ RESOLUTION

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And in Indiana:

Group Raising Money For Passenger Rail Study

updated: 9/24/2014 1:21:38 PM
InsideINdianaBusiness.com Report

LAFAYETTE, Ind. — The board of directors of the Indiana Passenger Rail Alliance (IPRA) has voted to engage Transportation Economics and Management Systems, Inc, of Frederick, Maryland (TEMS), to prepare a business plan and economic impact study of a rail corridor that runs from Chicago to Cincinnati and to Louisville, by way of Dyer, Rensselaer, Lafayette, Crawfordsville, Indianapolis and Connersville.

The proposed study will cost between $150K and $200K, and will determine capital costs, the projected revenue and the operating expense of modern 21st Century passenger trains. The study will also include projections of the economic impact on the state and the various communities served by the trains. The study will be completed in about four months, once the funding is secured. The study is a prerequisite for an environmental impact study (EIS) of the corridor, and for securing the federal funding for capital improvements.

As a result, the Alliance will have a realistic estimate of the capital costs to be incurred by the infrastructure improvements; and which will support a 21st Century passenger rail operation in Indiana. Revenue and expense projections will also be used to predict the profitability of various combinations of the proposed speed and frequency of service. The end result will be a demonstration of the utility and economic viability of modern passenger rail across Indiana.

TEMS was chosen to compliment another passenger rail study it did in Indiana. The firm recently completed a feasibility study and business plan for the Northeast Indiana Passenger Rail Association (NIPRA) which is headquartered in Fort Wayne. The focus of that study was a corridor from Chicago to Fort Wayne and Columbus. This study has since paved the way for an application to the Federal Rail Administration (FRA), sponsored by the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT), for matching funds for that corridor’s EIS.

READ MORE AT:
https://www.insideindianabusiness.com/newsitem.asp?ID=67241

Coalition Files “Friend of Court” Brief Defending Passenger Rights

While All Aboard Ohio wants daytime Amtrak trains in Ohio, it doesn't want them under recent circumstances in which trains run many hours late. All Aboard Ohio has joined a coalition to support legal action to get passenger trains to run on time. July 4, 2014 offered one of many case examples why All Aboard Ohio acted. Shortly before noon, a 6.5-hour late Lake Shore Limited (Chicago-New York City/Boston) carrying 550 passengers on this train cruises at 79 mph past the Triskett Rapid Transit station on Cleveland's west side.

While All Aboard Ohio wants daytime Amtrak trains in Ohio, it doesn’t want them under recent circumstances in which trains run hours late. All Aboard Ohio has joined a coalition to support legal action to get passenger trains to run on time. July 4, 2014 offered one of many case examples why All Aboard Ohio acted. Shortly before noon, a 6-hour late Lake Shore Limited (Chicago-New York City/Boston) carrying 550 passengers cruised at 79 mph past the Triskett Rapid Transit station on Cleveland’s west side. It should have passed this location about 5:30 a.m. (All Aboard Ohio photo)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE (#14-15)
September 24, 2014

Contact:
Sean Jeans-Gail, NARP – 202-408-8362

Coalition Files “Friend of Court” Brief Defending Passenger Rights

Confronts Increasingly Serious Delays Afflicting America’s National Train Network

Washington, D.C.—The National Association of Railroad Passengers, the Environmental Law and Policy Center, All Aboard Ohio, and Virginians for High Speed Rail have filed an amicus curiae brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in a case that could prove pivotal in eliminating delays that are leaving passengers stopped on the track and stranded at the station.

The brief argues for the reversal of a judgment issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals – D.C. Circuit. That judgment struck down a provision of the 2008 rail reauthorization bill that instructed the Federal Railroad Administration and Amtrak—consulting with the Surface Transportation Board, freight railroads, states, rail labor, and rail passenger organizations—to develop metrics and minimum standards for measuring Amtrak passenger train performance and service quality. A decision in this case has taken on new urgency, following the U.S. House’s introduction of the Passenger Rail Reform and Investment Act of 2014 (H.R. 5449), which sidesteps the serious on-time performance issues afflicting train passengers across the U.S. and crippling rail growth just at the moment when Americans are embracing rail travel in record numbers.

The amicus, or friend-of-the-court brief, lays out an argument structured around two central facts:

I.) “The court of appeals based its decision on two separate grounds: (1) an erroneous finding that Amtrak is a private entity and (2) a complete disregard of the factors indicating sufficient governmental control over the development and implementation of the metrics and standards.”

In order to achieve the national goal of maintaining a balanced transportation system in the U.S., Congress created Amtrak to preserve intercity train service in the U.S. at a time when the passenger rail sector was in steep decline. Consequently, Amtrak has been granted special statutory rights throughout its history, such as track access and preferential dispatching. As early as 1978, Congress passed a law declaring that, while Amtrak should be managed as a business, it is not in reality a for-profit corporation. Rather, it is a government corporation that provides a public service—as defined by Congress—that uses ticket revenue and business partnerships to minimize the need for public funding.

In the development of the metrics and standards in question, the FRA solicited input from a wide array of stakeholders through the Federal Register. The FRA fully considered these comments, including those made by the freight railroads, before issuing a final version of the metrics and standards in May 2010. These metrics are binding only to Amtrak, do not supplant operating agreements between Amtrak and the freight railroads, and do not serve as a basis to impose sanctions against host railroads. The metrics merely provide a trigger for an investigation by the Surface Transportation Board when certain conditions aren’t met, most significantly on-time performance. The STB only awards damages and other relief if, as a result of their investigation, they find that freight railroads have failed to live up to their statutory obligation to provide preference to Amtrak trains over freight trains—an obligation originating in a 1973 law that not even the freight railroads dispute.

II.) “As a matter of public policy, the decision by the court of appeals, which invalidates Amtrak’s on-time performance measures, thwarts the intent of Congress and threatens the future of passenger rail service in the United States.”

Under the metrics and standards implemented by the 2008 rail reauthorization law, Amtrak was able to achieve a 2012 on-time performance rate of 83 percent nationwide, and 71 percent for long distance trains. This level of on-time performance played a key part in allowing Amtrak to sustain its explosive ridership growth, which has led to ridership records in 10 of the past 11 years.

Since the metrics were struck down by the court of appeals, reported freight interference incidents nearly tripled, and Amtrak’s on-time performance plummeted to 42 percent. The long distance trains have been the most hard-hit; in a particularly extreme case, the on-time performance of the Capitol Limited (which serves the Ohio cities of Toledo, Sandusky, Elyria, Cleveland and Alliance) plummeted to 1.6% in July. Amtrak reported in April 2014 that, in response to these skyrocketing delays, ridership and revenue had fallen by 15% year over year to date.

“Dramatic increases in freight train traffic combined with routine summertime track maintenance has resulted in extreme delays to Amtrak trains across Northern Ohio,” said All Aboard Ohio Executive Director Ken Prendergast. “In the week before Labor Day, among the 50 arrivals of Northern Ohio’s Amtrak trains into Boston, Chicago, New York City and Washington, more than half of those (27 trains) arrived at least four hours late. Only five arrived less one hour late and only one of those 50 trains arrived on time.”

“These crippling delays directly threaten a transportation choice that Americans have said they want and that tens of millions of Americans rely on every year. Rail links are a public good, and the reason Congress established Amtrak in the first place. It’s no coincidence that these delays followed hard on the heels of the DC appeals court ruling, and it’s also no coincidence that the result has unraveled a decade of record ridership. It’s ironic that these delays hurt Amtrak’s bottom line, increasing its dependence on public subsidies, even as those who back the appeals court ruling decry Amtrak’s business performance,” said NARP President Jim Mathews. “NARP would like to thank our partners in this process—especially the team at ELPC—for their hard work in laying out an airtight argument for why the judgment of the court of appeals must be reversed.”

Click here to read the brief in it’s entirety. 

There is a near-term solution to help ease Ohio’s rail traffic congestion. Norfolk Southern’s two-track mainline across Northern Ohio is one of the nation’s busiest rail corridors, carrying more than 20,000 daily truckload equivalents of cargo and a dozen fully loaded Boeing 737 equivalents of passengers per day, according to All Aboard Ohio.  Ohio stations (Alliance, Bryan, Cleveland, Elyria, Sandusky and Toledo) have passenger platforms on only one side of the NS corridor which forces half of all passenger trains to switch between main tracks and run against the flow of traffic to serve each station. Expanding Ohio stations could reduce passenger train delays by about 80 minutes per day, with potentially even larger time savings for freight shippers. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Toledo) secured nearly $1 million in federal funding to evaluate rail traffic flows and accordingly develop detailed plans for station expansions. However the Ohio Department of Transportation has yet to release these funds to a willing project sponsor — the Northern Ohio Rail Alliance that’s comprised of metro planning organizations in Toledo, Sandusky and Cleveland/Elyria.

About the National Association of Railroad Passengers
The National Association of Railroad Passengers (“NARP”) is the largest national membership advocacy organization for train and rail transit passengers consisting of 28,000 individual members nationwide. Since its founding in 1967, NARP has worked to expand the quality and quantity of passenger rail in the United States. NARP’s mission is to work for a modern, customer-focused national passenger train network that provides a travel choice Americans want.

About the Environmental Law and Policy Center
The Environmental Law and Policy Center of the Midwest (“ELPC”) is a not-for-profit public interest environmental legal advocacy organization. Founded in 1993, ELPC develops and leads successful strategic advocacy campaigns to improve environmental quality and protect our natural resources through the advancement of clean air, clean transportation and clean energy policies at the regional and national levels. ELPC has worked to advance intercity passenger rail in the Midwest and nationwide for almost twenty years.

About All Aboard Ohio
Founded in 1973, the Ohio Association of Railroad Passengers (“All Aboard Ohio”) is comprised of citizens, businesses and organizations that advocate for more and better transportation choices in Ohio, including more passenger trains, better public transit and improved rail infrastructure. All Aboard Ohio exists to achieve a modern, consumer-focused, state-wide passenger rail system.

About Virginians for High Speed Rail
Virginians for High Speed Rail (“VHSR”) is a notfor- profit coalition of citizens, localities, economic development agencies, community organizations, and businesses that educate and advocate for the expansion of fast, frequent, and reliable rail service. Founded in 1994, VHSR promotes passenger rail as an energy efficient, cleaner mode of transportation that provides significant economic benefits.

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