Happening Now

DOT: STB Should Move Quickly On Sunset

April 14, 2023

by Jim Mathews / President & CEO

A little more than four months after Amtrak filed a formal "late trains" complaint against Union Pacific with the Surface Transportation Board, the U.S. Dept. of Transportation this week filed a comment to the case docket urging the STB to avoid mediation and to move quickly with an investigation and a ruling.

It’s the first time STB will be tackling a complaint under Section 213’s new rules which took effect in late 2020.

DOT’s General Counsel’s office noted that because of this both the Board’s decision “and its approach” to investigating substandard Customer OTP on Amtrak’s Sunset Limited “will have far-reaching implications” beyond the tardy Sunset and will go the heart of strengthening Amtrak passenger train performance everywhere.

“We believe it is imperative that the Board conduct a focused and time-limited investigation, and that a lengthy, protracted adversarial proceeding would not conform to the relevant statutory direction in 49 U.S.C. § 24308(f) to conduct an investigation, nor would it serve the interests of the public or of the parties,” DOT said in its comment to the docket (which you can find on STB’s website using docket NOR 42175).

DOT believes the data it already reports on the public-facing website are already a solid basis for any investigation, hinting (though not saying outright) that there’s no need to duplicate efforts.

Within days of Amtrak’s motion complaining about Union Pacific’s “pattern and practice” of violating Amtrak’s legal right to preferential dispatch for the Sunset Limited, the docket began to fill with petitions looking for extensions of time to respond, which the STB granted. Given how long the Gulf Coast case went on for the past two years before winding up going to mediation, it’s clear that the Federal Railroad Administration is looking for the Board to use the Sunset case to spell out a clear and direct remedy for passenger operators who have waited for decades to see the preferential dispatching language on the books actually have some force.

“DOT and FRA strongly encourage the Board to adopt an efficient and focused process for this investigation, as intended by 49 U.S.C. § 24308(f), to ensure an expedited resolution for the benefit of the public and the parties to this dispute,” DOT said. “The Board can and should conduct an objective investigation without engaging in a drawn-out adversarial proceeding or referring the matter to mediation at this time.”

When Amtrak filed its Section 213 complaint on December 8th, the railroad asked STB to move the case along in 60 days. Amtrak put the blame squarely on precision scheduled railroading, or PSR, asking the Board to look into “whether and how UP’s corporate strategies and objectives drive substandard Amtrak on-time performance” and noting that UP routinely runs trains much longer than any of UP’s sidings can accommodate.

You can read our coverage of Amtrak’s initial complaint here at this link. You can read DOT’s comment to the docket on Thursday at this link. And you can read Amtrak’s first motion from December here at this link.