WASHINGTON — Union Pacific has asked the Surface Transportation Board to order mediation in response to Amtrak’s request for an investigation into its handling of the Sunset Limited, and says the current Sunset schedule is the root cause of the train’s problems.
In a Friday filing with the STB, UP asserts that the Sunset schedule has not been designed to account for the current customer on-time performance metric or customer on-time performance minimum standard adopted by the Federal Railroad Administration in its final rule set in 2020 [see “FRA publishes final rule …,” Trains News Wire, Nov. 16, 2020]. Those standards measure performance by the number of passengers arriving at their station within 15 minutes of scheduled arrival, rather than simply by train arrival, giving greater weight to stations where more passengers arrive and depart [see “Analysis: FRA seeks Amtrak, host railroad scheduling cooperation,” News Wire, Nov. 20, 2022].
Amtrak brought the first-of-its-kind case to the STB in December 2022, seeking damages and other relief from UP over what it called the “abysmal” handling of the Sunset, and proposing how to handle the case [see “Amtrak asks federal regulators to investigate …,” News Wire, Dec. 9, 2022]. In its filing, Amtrak said the westbound Sunset had posted customer on-time figures of 40%, 24%, 10% and 11% over the last four quarters, while the eastbound train posted figures of 40%, 35%, 11%, and 7%.
But UP says that during the first quarter, when the westbound train posted that 40% customer on-time figure, the train’s median run time was 31 minutes under the scheduled run time. “Amtrak’s own data confirm the Sunset Limited Service schedules are not aligned with the COTP Metric and COTP Minimum Standard [which calls for 80% customer on-time performance],” the railroad says.
UP says Amtrak has not agreed to changes needed to bring the schedule into that alignment and has “refused to accept other changes UP has proposed to make the schedules reliable and achievable.”
The freight railroad also argues against the procedural proposal offered by Amtrak, saying it ignores the schedule alignment issue; would be inefficient, by requiring the STB to develop an approach to address “a wide range of complex, data-intensive scheduling and operating issues;” and would deprive UP of due process by allowing the STB to determine a violation has occurred before allowing UP to defend itself.
UP says mediation “would allow parties to address a broader range of issues than the dispute resolution procedures established under the FRA’s final rules” and “would provide a form that might help Amtrak and UP reach agreement on other issues Amtrak raised in its complaint, including the use of alternative routes to avoid congestion and additional investments to expand capacity on the route used by the Sunset Limited trains.”
Canadian National and its Illinois Central subsidiary have also weighed in, telling the board in a Friday filing that CN should not be part of the proceeding because they have a minimal connection to the Sunset case — the train operates on 2.2 miles of CN track leased to a shortline, and Amtrak’s complaint does not mention CN. However, CN argues, Amtrak’s proposed procedure is inconsistent with and ignores prior rulings, and the board should follow previously established procedures.
13 thoughts on “UP asks STB to order mediation with Amtrak in Sunset Limited case”
If Amtrak doesn’t like routing on the UP, what’s keeping it from routing over another railroad? Or, building it’s own railroad?
I believe UP, as well as most of the others, wan’t to get rid of Amtrak, that’s why they hold them when there’s no frieght traffic anywhere near the Amtrak train, then blame them for the poor performance.
Give Fritz and Company enough time and they will come up with a solution to “embargo” Amtrak just for being!
New Orleans to Sierra Blanca Tx has no double main but, with only 10-12 trains a day doesn’t need it. But Sierra Blanca to El Paso does have a heavy freight count. But in El Paso and west, all double track into Calif and they can’t keep ONE passenger train a day anywhere close to on time?? With all the video cameras available to monitor the double track you can sit for a long time not seeing anything. Doesn’t make sense.
As worded in the article, I find U.P.’s arguments confusing. Maybe some specific examples would help. The idea of “giving greater weight to stations where more passengers arrive and depart” just makes sense. Amtrak’s schedules (at least on L.D. trains) appear to put most of the “makeup time”, i.e. padding, into the end of the run prior to arrival at major end-point stations as well as major intermediate stations, which does indeed weight the metrics as U.P. seems to be suggesting.
As worded in the article, I find U.P.’s arguments confusing. Maybe some specific examples would help. The idea of “giving greater weight to stations where more passengers arrive and depart” just makes sense. Amtrak’s schedules (at least on L.D. trains) appear to put most of the “makeup time”, i.e. padding, into the end of the run prior to arrival at major end-point stations, which does indeed weight the metrics as U.P. seems to be suggesting.
I always find it interesting when the accused defense is “you aren’t following the rules” when that is exactly what they have been doing for 40+ years.
I still haven’t forgotten the story of an Amtrak train sitting on a SP siding with a red signal for mega hours somewhere in the southwest, all because the operations guy for SP went home and went to bed.
I suppose this case before the FRA will take about as long to resolve as the CSX/NS/Port of Mobile vs Amtrak case took.
It’s funny how UP has spent a lot of money double tracking the Sunset Route over the last 15 years or so and still the performance of the Sunset is worse than ever. I would hope Amtrak does not agree to more schedule padding because every time that has been done, timekeeping never improves. Maybe if UP wouldn’t run 15,000 ft trains at 45 mph, things would go better. BNSF seems capable of doing it much better. The UP of 30 to 40 years ago would be appalled at what UP does now.
More double track for fewer freights, equals a railroad that can’t move its trains.
What the UP does on its own tracks is solely the business of UP. Not the government. Or, any part of it.
You can’t change the procedures the FRA came up, either live with them or admit you run the train like crap because it’ll interrupt your freight trains.
I suppose UP wants to do a Sunset Limited schedule similar to what CN does with the Canadian.