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Home / News & Reviews / News Wire / Canadian National blasts Amtrak proposal for dispatching control as ‘outrageously self-serving’

Canadian National blasts Amtrak proposal for dispatching control as ‘outrageously self-serving’

By David Lassen | July 28, 2022

In latest filings in long-running fight over new contract, Amtrak says host railroad’s proposal would earn incentives for ‘routinely late’ passenger trains

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City of New Orleans hurries through Matteson, Ill., on May 21, 2020
City of New Orleans hurries through Matteson, Ill., on May 21, 2020
A late-running northbound City of New Orleans hurries through Matteson, Ill., on Canadian Naitonal’s former Illinois Central route on May 21, 2020. Amtrak and CN have filed new arguments against their opponent’s proposals in a long-running contract dispute. (Trains: David Lassen)

WASHINGTON — Canadian National calls an Amtrak proposal that would give it dispatching control over CN lines with poor passenger performance “an outrageously self-serving recipe” that would “cause profound harm to freight railroads, freight customers, American consumers, and the broader economy,” and urges the Surface Transportation Board to reject the concept “out of hand.”

Amtrak, meanwhile, is urging the board to reject CN’s latest proposal for a contract between the two companies, saying it is not in keeping with performance metrics established by the Federal Railroad Administration and “would lead to the absurd result that CN can earn incentives … when Amtrak passengers are routinely late as a result of CN’s actions.”

Those views are part of the latest filings before the STB over the companies’ long-running inability to negotiate a new operating agreement, which has led to the continued use of a contract dating to 2011. The July 26 filings are in response to initial arguments in May that included the Amtrak proposal on dispatching [see “Amtrak seeks right to take over dispatching …,” Trains News Wire, May 31, 2022].

Amtrak proposal an ‘overreach,’ CN says

The 297-page public version of the CN filing redacts contract and other details, such as the number of trains handled by dispatchers. It claims the Amtrak proposal based on Host-Responsible Delays reflects a plan previously rejected by the board, “randomly adjusts” incentives and penalties based on customer-on time performance and ridership changes that are not indicative of CN performance, and would leave CN with “no realistic opportunities to earn net incentives,” leaving the host railroad no financial incentive to perform well and causing it to subsidize Amtrak.

But it most strongly disagrees with Amtrak’s proposal that would allow the passenger railroad to assume control of dispatching if its trains on CN exceeded a set number of minutes of delay for four consecutive calendar quarters, calling it “a breathtaking overreach that would run roughshod over shipper and host freight railroad interests,” and claiming Amtrak could invoke that authority even if trains meet the 80% customer on-time standard established by the Federal Railroad Administration.

“Amtrak’s proposal treats CN’s network as if it were Amtrak’s property,” the filing states, “and would likely result in a material lessening of the quality of freight service on CN’s network, and more broadly, the nation’s inter-dependent freight network.”

CN offers no method to deal with continuing delays, Amtrak says

Amtrak’s 407-page public filing, meanwhile, is heavily redacted, removing the nature of a CN proposal for mediation in one area and one complete section of an argument why the board should reject a CN proposal regarding review of schedules. It argues that the CN proposal, in addition to failing to comply with the FRA performance metrics established in 2020 [see “FRA publishes final rule …,” News Wire, Nov. 16, 2020], provides for no “concrete action” to address sustained poor performance.

“Rather, it proposes that — after six months of poor Amtrak performance — the Parties then embark on a time-consuming process of investigations, meetings, and discussions about the causes of Amtrak’s delays,” the Amtrak filing says. “If the Parties cannot agree on remedial action, this arduous process drags on for months and potentially years more.” [Emphasis in the original].

CN is also asking that Amtrak be required to reimburse it for crew overtime, fuel, and equipment costs resulting when freight trains make way for Amtrak trains. Amtrak says this should be rejected because the host railroad “is not entitled to reimbursement for discharging its statutory obligation to provide preference to Amtrak trains.”

Amtrak also says CN is asking for a joint review of Amtrak schedules, which it says is unnecessary because of the schedule certification process outlined in the 2020 FRA rule on performance metrics, and that CN is proposal an “unduly burdensome and overly complicated” dispute resolution system that involves 40 different codes to classify delays. Amtrak says its proposed agreement includes only seven such codes.

10 thoughts on “Canadian National blasts Amtrak proposal for dispatching control as ‘outrageously self-serving’

  1. Interesting that in the recent push for low ratio through PSR, complaints with unions and Amtrak have increased for the host railroads. 🙂

  2. I find a perfectly reasonable incentive to get the railroads to fulfill their statutory duty to run Amtrak trains reasonably on time would be exactly what Amtrak is proposing. Do you think any railroad would want to give up dispatching authority to Amtrak? Absolutely not, so let’s make it a permanent law that should Amtrak tardiness fall outside of let’s be generous and say 90% for 2 consecutive months, then all dispatching duties for that corridor(regardless of length) be turned over to Amtrak personnel for dispatching. Of course you have to include all the mitigating factors about causes by natural disaster, but not anything that’s under the railroads control.

  3. This is a unique situation where both ATK and CN share culpability that exacerbates the matter.

    For CN, once it convinced Ottawa to vastly improve its track infrastructure as an investment to increase the profitability of its sale as a Crown Corporation, CN lost no time at ignoring any responsibility towards properly operating the passenger trains of VIA Rail. This explains why the popularity of “The Canadian” tanked with excessively late schedules after being pushed off its CP route.

    Unlike the freight railroads, Amtrak failed to build a stable of experienced railroad professionals to call upon such an internal reserve to credibly run Amtrak. Filling out corporate management positions with a Capitol Hill staffer and airline jocks just doesn’t cut it. Compounding this matter are the unfulfilled Board member positions; the sense this administration and Congress of deliberately avoiding any viable candidates who actually can lead as knowledgeable stewards of the firm, beyond the real estate chase enjoyed by Coscia and Schumer. Without railroad operating experience, Amtrak leadership at the corporate and Board level is simply ‘taking a knife to a gunfight’ with CN.

    The excessive late running and pathetically elongated schedules destroyed the principal north-south corridor between Chicago-Carbondale-New Orleans, which also impacted any concept of asset utilization.

    In essence, this is not a Guilford situation requiring takeover. Besides, the current Amtrak model would probably dismiss dispatchers and tower men in the next pandemic. Instead, the only option is for STB impose enforceable, severe fines that not even CN’s Board or investors would find acceptable. The same would apply to Amtrak for its contribution to delays.

    1. Please explain the Coscia-Schumer connection. Schumer may hold sway but he is not in the administration.

      Also while we may not like the current Amtrak board makeup, I do not see much of a connection between this issue and the current board.

    2. Mr. Adams, Mr. Jones just gave you the answer. The Board doesn’t know diddly squat about railroads. Apparently, having an understanding of rail operations and the underlying infrastructure that supports it is not a prerequisite for being appointed to that Board. In fact, having that knowledge might even get one disqualified for appointment. The fact that no one at Amtrak and none of Illinois’ political leadership at state and federal levels are advocating for restoration of the second main, torn out by ICRR in the 80s by Ed Moyers and Hunter Harrison, and adding greater operational flexibility in the form of adding control points equipped with 60-80mph crossovers to go with it speaks volumes. These folks would rather curse the darkness than light a candle. And Amtrak decides it can bully their hosts, a lost cause if ever there was one. Meanwhile IL Governor JB Pritzger, who is as wide as he is tall, is using state IIJA highway appropriations, meant to be only used for SOGR initiatives, to binge-widen interstate highway segments deemed to be “congested”. But “widen” a rail line that hosts passenger trains your state is paying for per the PRIIA209? Who ever heard of that? Not Pritzger or that bullyboy Sen. Richard Durbin.

    3. MARK — There’s two sides to the story. (1) Rail experts who explain just how wonderful it is that railroads can squeeze numerous freights through a single-track railroad. (2) People who call BS to the whole shebang. Apparently you are in category (2). BTW so am I.

  4. I guess any suggestion to seek relief, would be called “self serving”. If it is so outrageous so. Explain. This is why STB exists, and hopefully considers facts and not political influence, which albeit is hard to do. endmrw0728221329

  5. Mark is totally correct and lets see if we can increase freight lengths to 50,000 feet and how many more crew members we can get rid of.

  6. Guess single tracking all that mainline wasn’t such a great idea after all. Once that it gets done it’s pretty rare it ever gets put back in.

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