Durbin, Amtrak score big win in war with freight railroads – Crain’s Chicago Business

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Durbin’s win came when, after a series of legislative actions, including introduction of a bill that would allow Amtrak to sue freight lines for interference in its operations, the Federal Railway Administration issued a final rule establishing metrics and minimum standards for on-time performance. That’s important because while lines like Amtrak’s Saluki service to Southern Illinois were late as much as 94 percent of the time by one measure, “late” depended on how it was counted.

With the new standard in place, Durbin, D-Ill., says Amtrak now will be able to enforce rules giving passenger trains priority over freight. Specifically, if an Amtrak train is more than 15 minutes late more than 20 percent of the time for two quarters in a row, the passenger carrier will be able to seek help including fines from another agency, the Surface Transportation Board. STB holds enforcement powers over freight lines.

“If implemented properly this new FRA rule will improve Amtrak’s passenger rail service and efficiency,” Durbin said. “By properly measuring the role freight rails plan in Amtrak delays, we can improve on-time performance, better hold freight railroads accountable, and save taxpayer dollars.”

Durbin said he’s familiar with the delays first-hand. Though he’s often in Chicago and has an apartment on the North Side, the senator often travels via train to his home in Springfield.

Amtrak noted in a statement that Congress first formally asked for such a rule 12 years ago.

“For too long, many freight railroads have put their cargo ahead of our passengers—in direct opposition to the law,” it said in the statement. “This rule will help Amtrak enforce its rights when they are violated, in order to get you to your destination on schedule.”

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November 25, 2020 at 02:44PM

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