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Rail News: Passenger Rail

Metrolink seeks formal on-time resolution with UP


Nearly nine years after Metrolink opened its Riverside Line, the Southern California commuter line’s passengers continue to experience delays — many caused by Union Pacific Railroad’s dispatching practices. So the agency March 11 sent UP a notice of non-performance, which triggers a contract enforcement process requiring a UP response within 30 days.

"It should not come as a surprise to the Union Pacific that we have run out of patience," said Bill Alexander, vice chair of Metrolink’s board and member of San Bernardino Associated Governments’ board, in a prepared statement, adding that the agency has met with and written letters to UP officials trying to work out the issue, but have been unsuccessful in achieving lasting results.

Metrolink leases track rights for its 58.7-mile line from UP, which is responsible for dispatching. According to contract terms, commuter trains are supposed to be given dispatching priority during peak periods — between 5 a.m. and 9 a.m. inbound, and 3:45 p.m. and 7:45 p.m. outbound.

Typically, trains are delayed more than 30 minutes — some as long as two hours.

"I’ve seen people crying in the morning because if they are late for work one more time they may lose their jobs," said Riverside Line passenger Darlene Barnes. "I’ve seen people crying at night because they are going to be late picking up their kids again and will have to pay a large fee."

Weekdays, Metrolink runs 12 trains on that route; UP, 50. During the past year, the Riverside Line has run 86 percent on time — Metrolink officials attribute 60 percent of the delays occurring during the past four months to UP’s dispatching decisions.

For comparison’s sake, Burlington Northern Santa Fe dispatches Metrolink’s Orange County Line, which daily is used by 35 Metrolink, 25 Amtrak and 11 freight trains — and has an average on-time performance record of 98 percent.

"This is about performing in compliance with our contract," said Alexander.

If the timeliness issues are not resolved by the end of the 30 days, Metrolink’s board could authorize staff to pursue arbitration with UP.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 3/13/2002