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Rail News: Amtrak

Sen. Durbin chairs hearing to address Amtrak service delays in Illinois


U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) hosted a hearing in Champaign, Ill., yesterday with Surface Transportation Board Chairman Dan Elliott to discuss ways to address Amtrak service delays on Illinois routes.

Record freight-rail traffic and delayed Amtrak service resulting in "poor on-time performance" are threatening the success of passenger rail in the state, Durbin said in a press release issued after the hearing.

In addition to Elliott, the hearing was attended by Amtrak board member Tom Carper and local stakeholders. Durbin has urged Elliott to meet with Illinois communities to discuss persistent Amtrak delays along routes operated by CN.

In Illinois, Amtrak's on-time performance has suffered the most along the Chicago-Champaign-Carbondale route owned and operated by CN, according to Durbin. The Illini and Saluki trains are arriving on time only 49 percent of the time, he said.

"Ridership and revenue are at all-time highs for Amtrak, and unfortunately so are delays. Late trains and unnecessary delays turn passengers away from Amtrak and can slow the incredible growth we have seen so far," Durbin said.

Illinois has invested almost $2 billion in federal funds in the state's passenger-rail infrastructure, including monies for new locomotives and rail cars, he said.

"We cannot let these investments go to waste due to unnecessary freight train interference," said Durbin.

CN's "lack of cooperation" with state officials and Amtrak "is disappointing and I encourage them to step up and make the changes necessary to improve Amtrak service," he said.

In 2008, Durbin was part of an effort to pass legislation that gave the STB the authority to enforce Amtrak's rights to the rails. Last month, he called on the STB to exercise its authority to investigate the causes of the delays and enforce Amtrak's on-time performance standards.

In January 2012, Amtrak filed a complaint with the STB about CN's interference of Amtrak trains on the Chicago-Champaign-Carbondale corridor. Amtrak and CN have tried to mediate the issue through the STB, but Amtrak's on-time performance has continued to decline and CN has been more "recalcitrant" since a recent D.C. Circuit Court decision that invalidated Amtrak's on-time performance metrics, according to Durbin's press release. Amtrak has indicated it will seek to reopen the case and the STB to rule on it.

CN hosts two pair of Amtrak passenger trains between Chicago and Carbondale each day. Since winter ended, the Illini and Saluki trains' on-time performance has improved significantly as fluidity across the North American rail network has slowly improved, said CN spokesman Patrick Waldron in an email.

Under its contact, CN's on-time performance is measured based on whether the train moves across the Class I's route in the pre-set number of minutes, he said.

"Amtrak's on-time performance figures recently published in the press incorporate delays not attributable to or involving CN, such as delays at stations, delays as the result of Amtrak equipment problems, or delays as the result of trains not coming to CN at the scheduled times," said Waldron. "CN has provided the state of Illinois and Amtrak several proposals for infrastructure investments to add capacity and reduce passenger delays, particularly for the Illini train, on this busy and congested passenger and freight corridor."