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More than 97 percent of Amtrak’s 21,000 route miles run along tracks that are owned and maintained by freight railroads. So, when Amtrak officials say the majority of their delays are caused by host railroads, they’re not exaggerating.
Last month, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General released a report detailing freight-rail delays’ effects on Amtrak. Requested in February 2007 by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), the report states that the delays cost the national intercity passenger railroad almost $137 million in overtime and fuel costs, and lost revenue in fiscal-year 2006. The amount is equal to about 30 percent of Amtrak’s federal operating subsidy.
Between fiscal years 2003 and 2007, Amtrak’s on-time performance (OTP) for long-distance trains outside of the Northeast Corridor fell from an average of 51 percent to 42 percent, and OTP for shorter corridors outside the NEC fell from 76 percent to 66 percent, the report states. In comparison, OTP for Acela service — which runs on the Amtrak-owned-and-operated NEC — currently stands at 86.1 percent.
In October 2007, the Senate passed Lautenberg’s Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2007 (S. 294), which authorize $11.6 billion for Amtrak over a six-year period. The bill includes a provision that enables the Surface Transportation Board to investigate Amtrak delays and issue fines to freight railroads if the OTP of an individual route falls below 80 percent in two consecutive quarters due to “freight interference.”