Durbin: Illinois Delegation Asks Major Railroads to Commit to Improving Amtrak On-Time Performance
U.S. Senator Dick Durbin led a bipartisan group of Illinois delegation members in asking the three major freight railroads that own tracks in Illinois to create a plan to achieve an on time performance of Amtrak trains of at least 85 percent. In a letter to the CEO's and Presidents of Burlington Northern Santa Fe, Canadian National and Union Pacific, the Illinois members noted that while Amtrak's revenue and ridership has dramatically increased over the last two years, on-time performance has been only 44 percent this summer and presents a significant obstacle to the Amtrak's continued success.
"These delays not only continually make passengers late and frustrated, they cost Amtrak money," the Illinois members wrote. "Earlier this year, the Department of Transportation Inspector General found that improving Amtrak's on-time-performance to 85 percent would result in a $136.6 million net gain for the company. This level of savings could be used to modernize tracks here in Illinois and fund additional passenger train service from Chicago to Rockford, the Quad Cities and Peoria."
Nearly all of the tracks on which Amtrak trains run are owned by freight railroads known as "host railroads." A September 8, 2008 report by the Department of Transportation Inspector General found several root causes of Amtrak train delays, including; (1) host railroad dispatching practices, some of which resulted in violations of Amtrak's preference rights; (2) track maintenance practices and the resulting speed restrictions; and (3) insufficient track capacity. They also identified host railroad dispatching practices that violate Amtrak's preference rights. To that end, the Illinois members have asked the railroads to:
* Make necessary capital investments and management decisions that will improve both the freight railroad and Amtrak service in order to eliminate delays; and
* Share their plan to achieve an on time performance of passenger trains on their tracks to at least 85 percent to ensure Amtrak trains improve their performance in Illinois.
Members signing on to today's letter include Senators Durbin and Barack Obama (D-IL), Representatives Melissa Bean (D-IL), Judy Biggert (R-IL), Jerry Costello (D-IL), Danny Davis (D-IL), Rahm Emanuel (D-IL), Bill Foster (D-IL), Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), Phil Hare (D-IL), Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-IL), Tim Johnson (R-IL), Mark Kirk (R-IL), Ray LaHood (R-IL), Don Manzullo (R-IL), Peter Roskam (R-IL), Bobby Rush (D-IL), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), John Shimkus (R-IL) and Jerry Weller (R-IL).
Text of letter appears below:
September 24, 2008
Matthew K. Rose
CEO and President
2650 Lou Menk Drive
Fort Worth, TX 76131-2830
E. Hunter Harrison
CEO and President
935 de La Gauchetière St
Montreal, Quebec H3B 2M9
James R. Young
CEO and President
West 1400 Douglas St
Omaha, NE 68179
Dear Messrs Rose, Harrison and Young:
We are writing to request your assistance in improving the operation and on-time performance of passenger rail service in Illinois.
Amtrak ridership along your lines in Illinois has broken revenue and ridership numbers for 27 straight months. Gas prices are luring thousands of people from their cars and onto trains. And the looming cutbacks in airline service will only increase the demand for efficient, cost-effective and reliable Amtrak service.
Unfortunately, one significant obstacle stands in the way of the continued success of Amtrak in Illinois -- on-time performance. On-time performance of Amtrak trains this summer has been dismal: Illinois-subsidized trains were on time only 44 percent of the time for the months of May to August.
These delays not only continually make passengers late and frustrated, they cost Amtrak money. Earlier this year, the Department of Transportation Inspector General found that improving Amtrak's on-time-performance to 85 percent would result in a $136.6 million net gain for the company. This level of savings could be used to modernize tracks here in Illinois and fund additional train service from Chicago to Rockford, the Quad Cities and Peoria.
To eliminate these delays we need your railroads to make the necessary capital investments and management decisions that will improve both the freight railroad and Amtrak service. Poor track conditions, aging signal systems and management decisions favoring freight over passenger trains continue to create unacceptable delays on Amtrak routes, and raise questions regarding traffic control and its affect on the safety of Amtrak operations. Regular delays in Amtrak schedules will take a toll on ridership. Current rates of on-time arrivals are not acceptable.
To help ensure Amtrak trains improve their performance in our state, we ask you to share with us your plan to achieve an on time performance of passenger trains on your tracks to at least 85 percent. Please also identify what actions you can take that will have an immediate impact on the unacceptable on-time numbers we are currently experiencing.
Passenger rail is on the brink of a renaissance that could take cars off the road, relieve congested highways and minimize emissions that are harmful to air quality, and lessen our dependence on foreign oil. Ushering passenger rail into that renaissance requires a serious commitment from the freight railroads that own and maintain the track where Amtrak trains operate.
We look forward to hearing from you about your railroad's actions to increase the on-time performance of Amtrak trains in Illinois.