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Location: Middleburg (Jacksonville), Florida, United States

Published in Trains magazine, Railfan & Railroad, Passenger Train Journal

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Late trains

Amtrak takes UP to task


WASHINGTON
– We learned over the weekend Amtrak is getting after Union Pacific to fix “chronic unacceptable performance” of passenger trains over the western carrier’s lines.

William L. Crosbie, Amtrak’s senior vice-president for operations, in Washington, D.C., sent a letter dated August 4 to Dennis Duffy, UP’s executive vice president for operations in Omaha, the UP’s headquarters.

He stated he was writing, “to seek your immediate assistance in correcting the chronic unacceptable performance of Amtrak trains operating on the Union Pacific Railroad, particularly Amtrak’s long-distance trains.”

Crosbie continued, “It's sobering to look at how bad long-distance Amtrak train performance on UP has become. In July, 97 percent of the 211 long-distance trains operated primarily on UP arrived late. Even more amazing is the degree of lateness: 84 percent of long-distance trains arrived more than 2 hours late, 74 percent more than 3 hours late, and 66 percent more than 4 hours late.”

He explained in detail.

“To further put this into perspective, over 67,000 Amtrak passengers traveled on UP long-distance trains that were over 4 hours late... in the month of July alone! The resulting damage to Amtrak's brand, reputation, and repeat business is immense.”

Crosbie added the situation is getting worse.

“The vast majority of delays are from causes attributable to UP – nearly 90 percent of all delays incurred by Amtrak trains operating on UP in July. As high as these UP-responsible delays are, they continue to increase.”

He cited some specific trains that are losing ridership and being damaged by continual delays and rerouting.

“Amtrak has tried to work with UP to improve this situation. Our cooperation has ranged from adding over three hours of scheduled recovery time and changing the scheduled slot of the Sunset Limited, to repeatedly rerouting the California Zephyr away from the ridership-producing Rocky Mountain scenery for weeks at a time each summer to assist with UP trackwork, to modifying the schedule of the Coast Starlight last month on extremely short notice to support UP trackwork in Oregon.”

Still, things got even worse, he averred.

“In return, overall long distance train performance has continued to worsen. UP's encroachment on Amtrak’s contractual and statutory rights reached a point this spring where Amtrak had to initiate a contract arbitration over our right to operate, in which Amtrak prevailed by a unanimous 3-0 vote of the arbitrators.”

He said, “A primary root cause of this unacceptable performance is UP’s chronic violation of the slow order limits in our UP-Amtrak operating agreement. Each of the four Amtrak long distance routes operating on UP is in violation of these clear contractual obligations.”

He accepted the notion, “UP is making investments in some of these slow order areas,” and added, “Amtrak appreciates that step in the right direction. However, these investments cover only a portion of the route-miles where slow orders exceed contractual limits, and have not been enough to bring slow orders into compliance with the operating agreement.

Crosbie cited law as part of the agreement between the two carriers.

“The responsibility for operating Amtrak trains with minimal delay over UP rail lines is clear in both federal law and in UP’s operating agreement with Amtrak. The magnitude of Amtrak’s performance problems on UP has begun to attract significant public attention. If our two companies cannot improve Amtrak performance on UP, it is an invitation for government to solve our performance problems for us, an outcome neither of us wants to see happen.”

Crosbie sent copies of his letter to acting CEO David J. Hughes and the Amtrak Board of Directors.


UP prepares for Labor Day

OMAHA – Union Pacific reports it plans to have modified operations in all three of its operating regions during the Labor Day holiday. This includes operations from 7:00 a.m. on Monday, September 4 through 7:00 a.m. the next day.

“During this time, the regions will operate coal, intermodal and select automotive, soda ash, grain, perishables and manifest trains, as crew availability permits. Train level interchange plans will be developed with other railroads at interchange gateways,” the carrier wrote in a message to customers.

“Local operations will be limited to customer specific requests.”

The freight carrier stated, “Locations at gateways will coordinate interchange operations with connecting railroads at Mexico, Eastport, Chicago, St. Louis, Salem, Sydney, Kansas City, Memphis and New Orleans.”

Station plan looks stymied yet again

NEW YORK – the city’s $900 million plan to transform the city’s former general post office building on Eighth Avenue into a dramatic new transit hub connected to Pennsylvania Station appears to be delayed again.

State and city officials had hoped that the Public Authorities Control Board would approve the long-awaited project, which would be called Moynihan Station, at its meeting in Albany on Friday. They want construction to begin this fall on what proponents say would be a grand gateway to New York City and a necessary expansion of the nation’s busiest transit center. But that now seems unlikely.

State Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver, who controls the state board together with Gov. George E. Pataki and Joseph L. Bruno, the state Senate majority leader, said yesterday that there are still too many unresolved questions.

In addition, he said, there is also a new, more comprehensive proposal to modernize and expand Penn Station on both sides of Eighth Avenue, between 31st and 33rd Streets, by moving Madison Square Garden a block west to the back of the post office building that was to be converted into Moynihan Station.

“There are a lot of questions about the financing and what the final project will look like,” Silver said.

The complete story can be found at http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/18/nyregion/18station.html?_r=1&ref=nyregion&oref=slogin.

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