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Home / News & Reviews / News Wire / Regulators scold Amtrak, CN over ongoing contract dispute

Regulators scold Amtrak, CN over ongoing contract dispute

By David Lassen | October 31, 2022

In requesting documents, STB says sides' continuing litigation is ‘one of least optimal ways’ of determining new operating agreement

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Passenger train passes grain elevator and closed interlocking tower
Passenger train passes grain elevator and closed interlocking tower
The northbound Illini passes through Ashkum, Ill., on the Canadian National on April 11, 2022. A new STB decision asks Amtrak and CN to provide documents in their ongoing dispute — and scolds them for failing to resolve the matter themselves. David Lassen

WASHINGTON — Clearly displaying frustration that it is still dealing with the matter, the Surface Transportation Board has asked Amtrak and Canadian National to address errors and omissions in filings on their long-running dispute over a new operating agreement.

The disagreement dates to 2013, but its most recent history includes a 2019 interim decision sending the parties to mediation, a 2020 letter to the board that no agreement had been reached, and a January request to reopen the matter [see “STB sets schedule for submissions …,” Trains News Wire, March 2022].

The board decision reached Friday and released today (Monday, Oct. 31) requires the two sides to provide:

— A CN refiling of its opening submission incorporating corrections filed in June;

— Amtrak updating a filing to note material which it considers confidential and highly confidential, which it did not previously indicate;

— Any underlying workpapers, exhibits, and analyses not previously submitted by either side;

— Proposed operating agreements from each side as Microsoft Word documents.

All items are due by Nov. 30.

But the decision also notes, “Despite having engaged in Board-sponsored mediation, despite the ample time that had elapsed, and despite nearly 30 pages of guidance afforded by the Interim Decision, the parties admitted that they had failed to resolve a single one of the issues left open in 2019. … Among other issues, the parties made no progress toward resolution of on-time performance and schedules, incentives and penalties …  or performance measurements and delays.”

In filings this year, the board says, “the parties have resumed litigation — voluminously and acrimoniously — over these and many other issues.”

Those filings have included a plan from Amtrak that would see it take over dispatching on CN lines with prolonged delay issues [see “Amtrak seeks right to take over dispatching …,” News Wire, May 31, 2022]; a CN response that called that proposal “outrageously self-serving;” and an Amtrak filing that claimed CN’s proposed agreement would see it earn incentive payments for trains that are routinely late [see “Canadian National blasts Amtrak proposal …,” News Wire, July 28, 2022].

The board decision notes it is required by law to determine the terms for Amtrak use of CN facilities “and the Board will carry out this duty. But in choosing this path, the parties have selected one of the least optimal ways of establishing the contract that will govern their commercial relationship for years to come. The Board has often stated that it favors private resolution of disputes whenever possible — for good reason, given that parties best understand their own operations and commercial needs. The parties here would have better served their interests by capitalizing on that opportunity.”

9 thoughts on “Regulators scold Amtrak, CN over ongoing contract dispute

  1. My only perspective having grown up north of Chicago as CN crept in with it’s acquisitions of Soo and Milwaukee lines is that CN is only concerned with itself. I have heard from railfans, retirees who started with the Soo or Milwaukee that CN does not really care about its community image. Just about the money. The STB should keep this in mind when they rule. The job of the STB is to regulate the railroads when they do to wish to play nice. I Know that Amtrak is anything but perfect in its management of its assets, routes and employees but CN is being the bully here.

  2. Maybe off-topic, but look at the consist of the train pictured. Seven Superliners while Amtrak runs anemic-sized consists on the western LDs those cars were built for! Yeah, I know about the axle count demands CN is and has been for a long time demanding. Why is that not the subject of a deep dive by federal regulators? As for “freight train interference” delays, no one seems to realize that up until the mid-1980s the railroad was double track all the way to southern IL. Restore the double track and with ctc (that was deployed along with the single-tracking) and the establishment of frequent control points equipped with 80mph crossovers and guess what? The problems of priority largely go away under normal operating conditions. But that costs $$$. Lots of $$$. But the governor of Illinois instead is using IIJA $$$ to widen interstates. There’s where most of the problem lie.

    1. The Governor of the State of Illinois has no baring on IDOT’s programs other than to make suggestions. Having lived in Illinois for 60 years most of the politicians (both sides) would rather build and expand roads and expressways as a “see what I brought to my constituents, Vote for me”.

    2. Reason for Superliners on the Saluki/Illini is CN requires heavier cars from Mattoon to Kinmundy, IL.
      CN needs to look in the mirror. They are a bunch of whiney crybabies regarding CP, Amtrak yet CN has downgraded the former IC. Criminal

    3. The former IC was single tracked because with signaled sidings they (CN) say that they can pass both freight and future passenger volumes without the expense of double tracking.

      As a former frequent user of the Lincoln Service on Amtrak, I can say with all honestly that most of the travel time is used up navigating all the freight yards and speed limited draw bridges before we finally reached CUS. At the time, there was no freight interference. This was pre-CN however.

  3. “a CN response that called that (Amtrak) proposal “outrageously self-serving;”

    Yep, just like their (CN) ask for the entire KCS Springfield Line. Talk about self-serving.

    CN needs to look in the mirror a few more times in a week. How many times will the pot call the kettle black before they get a clue that they speak with forked tongue.

  4. I don’t understand. CN is proud of its’ PSR model for efficient operation. Why not know a freight train’s “schedule” and times and locations at those “certain: times when Amtrak is expected. Dispatching some passenger trains every day and night should be like candy to children on Halloween. Amtrak has a schedule and CN is totally aware of time and location each day. Accidents happen on a railroad that can throw a schedule off but Amtrak is loaded down with padding on the mainline. That’s when time can be made up and benefit all concerned. Why pay incentives when railroads have forgotten basic dispatching?

    1. That’s PSR is neither precise nor scheduled. It’s a ruthless cost-cutting scheme that leaves railroads short on power, crew and terminal space. It doesn’t live up to the hype.

  5. Maybe it’s time to force a contract agreement that the CN or any other RR wouldn’t like…so that in the future they’ll be more than willing to work with Amtrak on coming to an agreement. That’s the only way an STB decision on this will have any impact in the future.

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