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.