Here’s part of last year’s Amtrak reauthorization that seemed to go largely unnoticed: the Surface Transportation Board now has the power to fine host railroads that delay Amtrak trains. Considering that Amtrak mostly operates on routes owned by other companies outside of the Northeast corridor, this is a big deal. From Bloomberg News:
Freight railroads that cause delays for Amtrak passenger trains using their tracks could be fined under new authority for a U.S. rail oversight board, an official said yesterday at a hearing in Washington.
The Surface Transportation Board, the regulator of some rail rates, is gaining power to ensure Amtrak trains are punctual under a law passed in October. Chairman Charles Nottingham said the law allows it to levy fines to help meet that goal.
Officials want the service, which runs on freight-rail tracks in most parts of the United States, to be on time in 80 percent of trips. Freight-train hindrances and so-called slow orders, where carriers reduce speeds on sections of track, were the main causes of Amtrak delays last year, Amtrak chief operating officer William Crosbie said.
I was hoping to get some more information about how these fines are going to work from the STB’s website, but they don’t have information from yesterday’s conference up yet. If they enforce these regulations, we could see some real improvements in Amtrak’s on-time performance. This would go a long way towards improving its public image. On the other hand, it’s entirely conceivable that they won’t wield this powers at all.