This April, the US Senate introduced the Rail Passenger Fairness Act, legislation that requires infrastructure managers to prioritize passenger trains over freight trains. Infrastructure managers will be brought to court for not complying.
While Europe continues to debate whether freight should be prioritized over passengers, the US is giving Amtrak, the nation’s main passenger carrier, the ability to take infrastructure managers to court for not providing preference to passenger rail operating on their rail lines.
The aim of the legislation is to improve the on-time performance of passenger traffic and save taxpayer dollars, as freight train delays cause roughly 60% of Amtrack’s delays. A report published by Amtrack’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) in October 2019 found that low on-time performance was a key factor in Amtrack’s operating losses – which amounted to $171 million in 2018.
According to the press release for the new bill, “freight railroads continue to ignore their obligation to provide Amtrack preference,” as mandated by the Amtrack Improvement Act of 1973.
“With the Rail Passenger Fairness Act, we can finally hold freight railroads accountable when they fail to follow the law and get Amtrack’s on-time performance back on track,” said U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, who proposed the bill along with U.S. Representative Donald M. Payne Jr. and U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal.
“When freight trains are given priority over passenger trains, it delays the arrival of millions of Americans who use Amtrak daily,” added Donald M. Payne, Jr. “Freight rail carriers need to follow the law and give Amtrak priority on our nation’s railroad network. I am proud to introduce this bill because it will improve Amtrak’s performance, get people to their locations faster, and save American taxpayers millions of dollars.”
Currently, freight traffic dominates US railways, while passenger traffic is mainly within cities and intercity passenger services are extremely limited. The Biden Administration hopes to change that – the White House recently presented a $2 trillion infrastructure plan that puts an emphasis on passenger service and mass transit.
According to the White House’s statement, “Rail lacks a multi-year funding stream to address deferred maintenance, enhance existing corridors, and build new lines in high-potential locations. There are currently projects just waiting to be funded that will give millions more Americans reliable and fast inter-city train service.”
Said Amtrack President & CEO Bill Flynn, “Host railroads are required by law to provide Amtrak trains preference over freight trains. Unfortunately, some host railroads frequently fail to meet this requirement and ‘freight train interference’ is the largest source of delay to Amtrak trains on host railroads, violating the law and inconveniencing passengers. Amtrak thanks Senators Durbin and Blumenthal and Rep. Payne, Jr. for introducing legislation that upholds the rights of our customers to be on time and gives us tools to fight costly delays to Amtrak trains.”
According to Amtrak’s 2019 report, improving and maintaining a higher on-time performance rate on all Amtrak routes could potentially result in $41.9 million in annual cost savings and revenues, plus an estimated $336 million in equipment savings.