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NARP Urges Federal Regulators To Address On-Time Performance of Passenger Rail Service To Ensure No Passengers’ Needs Are Ignored

February 10, 2016

Release #16-01

For Immediate Release (#16-01)

Contact: Robert Brady

(202) 289-4001

Proposed rules ignore 24 states, will not monitor 90 percent of Amtrak network

Washington, D.C. – In response to the U.S. Surface Transportation Board’s (STB) Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) has urged the agency to address on-time performance (OTP) of passenger trains to avoid unnecessary delays, help continue record ridership nationwide, and ensure proposed rules do not ignore passengers’ needs. NARP submitted four critical recommendations on February 8 to STB that stated how the agency should examine OTP, including measurement of on-time arrival for trains and clearly defining what constitutes an “endpoint” station.

[Read the full statement.]

“Late and delayed trains are the most significant cause of passenger dissatisfaction, which can discourage people from traveling by rail,” said Jim Mathews, President and CEO of NARP. “We are pleased to see that the Surface Transportation Board has taken steps to address on-time performance issues and requested comments from the rail-riding public within the U.S., but their approach would not ensure a reliable and on-time rail service for Americans nationwide.”

On December 28, the STB announced that it had issued two proposals suggesting new definitions and policy guidelines, one regarding passenger train OTP and the other regarding related preference issues. Regarding OTP, the proposed definition would consider a train to be “on time” if it arrives at its final terminus no more than five minutes after its scheduled arrival time for each 100 miles the train operated, or 30 minutes after its scheduled arrival time, whichever is less. More importantly, the STB intends to measure OTP only at end points, rather than at all stations along a route.

“Through the NPRM, the STB is telling Americans in 24 states that don’t have endpoints, or more than half the states served by Amtrak, that regulators don’t care if their train is on time. Under STB’s proposal, some 90 percent of Amtrak stations’ OTP would never be measured, and that’s not fair to people who depend the rail service,” added Mathews.

Following the release of the NPRM, the board sought separate public comments on both proposals, with the comment period for OTP ending February 8, and the comment period for how the STB intends to treat the definition of preference ending on February 26. NARP has submitted comments to the STB regarding OTP, and they included four recommendations to help trains operate effectively. NARP will submit comments on preference issues later in February.

The recommendations on OTP urged regulators to:

  • Measure on-time arrivals at all stations, not just at the end points; to use a single 15-minute standard at each point along a train’s route, and; to trigger an automatic investigation if trains on a route dip below the OTP standard more than 20 percent of the time.
  • Look more closely at what constitutes an “end point” station, given that there are routes at which intermediate stations constitute end-points for many individual services.
  • Collect and publish data including the effect of degraded OTP on connections, and require statistical reporting by Amtrak detailing when late trains cause passengers to miss connections or when Amtrak is forced to delay departure of trains for connecting passengers. Collected and published data should also include OTP at key “chokepoints” where passenger trains are handed off from one host railroad to another.
  • Use the OTP rulemaking to establish a minimum standard Amtrak must meet to avoid delays caused by equipment failures, and recognize that Amtrak-caused delays contribute to only a small fraction of the total delays reported.

“STB asking for the rail-riding public to comment is a great way for the organization to understand passengers’ need, but NARP believes the process started by STB misses an opportunity to create a framework that engages all stakeholders – from regulators to host railroads, operators (including Amtrak), shippers and passengers – to work together on how to improve dispatching, coordination and infrastructure so that all parties benefit,” said Mathews.

Overall, STB has received 93 comments regarding its proposal on OTP. Of those, more than 75 percent of comments were shared by NARP members, or other rail advocacy groups that have a vested interest in a strong and effective national rail network.

About the National Association of Railroad Passengers

NARP is the only national organization speaking for the nearly 40 million users of passenger trains and rail transit. We have worked since 1967 to expand the quality and quantity of passenger rail in the U.S. Our mission is to work towards a modern, customer-focused national passenger train network that provides a travel choice Americans want. Our work is supported by more than 28,000 individual members nationwide.