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Rail News: Federal Legislation & Regulation

Amtrak: STB's proposed policy change would prioritize freight trains


Amtrak is objecting to the Surface Transportation Board's (STB) proposed "policy statement" that the railroad says would reverse a current federal requirement that gives preference to passenger trains on tracks that are shared with freight trains.

In a Feb. 22 statement filed with the STB, Amtrak said that current preference law gives Amtrak trains the priority to travel first on shared track. But the STB's proposed policy change would allow freight trains to have priority over passenger trains, Amtrak officials said in a statement.

Amtrak officials believe that if the policy change is adopted, passenger trains running on tracks owned by freight railroads will experience a substantial increase in delays. Nearly 97 percent of the passenger railroad's route miles operate on host railroad tracks not owned by Amtrak.

In its Feb. 22 letter, Amtrak argues that the STB should withdraw its proposed policy statement in part because it "ignores the plain and unequivocal language of Amtrak's statutory right to preference, creates a new definition that eviscerates the right to preference, and draws broad, erroneous conclusions about relevant evidence based on that fundamental misinterpretation."

Also pending before the STB is a proposed rule on the definition of on-time performance of freight railroads with which Amtrak shares tracks. The proposed rule would measure OTP with freight trains only at the end points of train routes, which Amtrak has stated would result in delays at train stations along its routes operated on tracks hosted by freight railroads.

The STB announced its "Policy Statement on Implementing Intercity Passenger Train On-Time Performance and Preference Provisions" on Dec. 28, 2015. The board is currently soliciting public comments on the proposals.

The National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) also advocated for the STB to withdraw its new policy statement on the preference change, saying the statement "overreaches federal law" and would cause passenger rail-line delays, hinder on-time performance and lead to a costly toll on the rail-riding public.

"The STB issued this 'policy statement' behind closed doors and without any input from any outside parties and outside the formal rule-making process that is required," said NARP President and Chief Executive Officer Jim Mathews in a press release. "As a result, regulators will change how intercity passenger services like Amtrak will be treated by host railroads which have legal obligations to give passenger trains right of way."

NARP filed its objections with the STB on Feb. 22.

The Association of American Railroads (AAR) filed its response to the STB rule and policy statement in favor of the freight railroads. The AAR's statement can be found here.