STB affirms rights of rail passengers

- Washington D.C., US
Woman reading tablet on a train

The National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) applauds the two decisions issued today by the Surface Transportation Board (STB), which affirm the statutory preference for passenger trains and recognize the importance of service quality at intermediate stations.

The STB issued two decisions, withdrawing a proposed rule that would redefine Amtrak’s statutory right to preferential dispatch (Docket No. EP 728), and revising a proposed rule to include arrival times at all intermediate stations—as opposed to just the final stop—when measuring On Time Performance (OTP)(Docket No. EP 726).

On behalf of the 40 million Americans who rely on rail each year for travel and work, NARP congratulates the Board of the STB for coming to the correct decision in these important rulemakings,” said NARP President & CEO Jim Mathews. “The STB plays a crucial role in ensuring that the national rail system operates both fairly and efficiently, and in ensuring that Congressional mandates are respected and enforced.

Passenger Priority Preserved

In December 2015, the STB issued a proposed policy statement that would disregard individual instances of freight trains being given priority over passengers in favor of a more general, “systemic” approach.

NARP argued against the proposed policy statement, saying it would “fundamentally change the rules of the game for how Amtrak can press host railroads to honor their legal obligations, going around the intent of Congress as expressed some 30 years ago and consistently reaffirmed in law and court rulings.” This rule would’ve made it difficult, if not impossible, to fight against Amtrak trains idling on sidings while freight trains rumble by—an all too common experience for rail passengers.

Amtrak concurred in its STB filing, saying “if a host railroad does not resolve an individual dispatching decision at a rail line, junction or crossing in favor of Amtrak, then Amtrak does not have preference over the freight train in using that rail line, junction or crossing.

The STB came down on the side of passengers and Amtrak, withdrawing the proposed policy statement, explaining that “in light of the broad disagreement among the interested parties… the Board finds that going forward with its Policy Statement would not advance its original goal of facilitating a more efficient and effective” rail system.

Importance of Intermediate Stations Affirmed

The STB also issued a revised final rule that includes intermediate stations when measuring the quality of rail service. This is a huge win for passengers, because the initial Notice of Proposed Rulemaking measured only when a train arrived at its final station.

NARP contended that “the OTP proposal as laid out in the [proposed rule] is inadequate in several ways, most especially in its apparent inapplicability to 90% of the stations served by Amtrak through using only end-point OTP as a triggering metric. STB’s discussion of its proposed OTP standard sidesteps many important concerns for the fare-paying public, such as what truly constitutes an ‘end point,’ the effect on connections, and the reality of the 30-minute standard when set against existing schedule padding.

The STB agreed, adopting an “all-stations” approach. The STB new calculations on OTP metrics will go into effect August 27, 2016.

About the National Association of Railroad Passengers

NARP is the only national organization speaking for the nearly 40 million users of passenger trains and rail transit. We have worked since 1967 to expand the quality and quantity of passenger rail in the U.S. Our mission is to work towards a modern, customer-focused national passenger train network that provides a travel choice Americans want. Our work is supported by more than 28,000 individual members nationwide.

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