Upcoming Amtrak LD Schedule Changes (2021)

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zephyr17

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So the freight railroads only won the right to dictate freight schedules for passenger trains? They must be ecstatic.


Guess that explains why tighter schedules are being chewed up and spat out.


You got that right. Sometimes I forget how many people hold freight hosts in higher esteem than Amtrak.
The law underlying the regulation was passed in 2008 and the freight railroads have been fighting it tooth and nail ever since. The regulations took 12 years before getting finalized in December 2020 because the railroads fought it at every step. That is because it involves actual regulatory enforcement of Amtrak's statutory priority, which they have never before been subject to.

They took it to the Supreme Court twice. The first time they won, as the court found that Amtrak could not set the delay metrics itself. Congress modified the law and specified that the STB set the metrics. They took that all the way to the Supreme Court and lost.

They fought the metrics. The tried to get it so it was measured at endpoints only. They tried for specified, restricted points. In the introductory section of the final reg, the STB stated they found that the Congressional intent was to minimize the delay passengers experienced, not trains themselves. So the metric the STB adopted is basically any delay over 15 minutes of any passenger at their destination station counts. While the STB established the metric and not Amtrak as the first cut at law tried to do, it is pretty darned passenger focused.

If you think Amtrak ever "dictated" schedules to the freight railroads, you are out of your mind. Amtrak has always had to negotiate their schedules with their host railroads. But freight railroads could agree to almost any schedule that could plausibly be met, because they could ignore or override them as they pleased with very little threat consequence or sanction.

This regulation ends that. The schedules negotiated now are subject to enforcement action and penalty by the FRA and STB.

Finally, the "present administration" really has little to do with this. The 12 year fight over it ended in December 2020, prior to their taking office.

While you may sound coolly cynical, you are actually nihilistic. Amtrak finally has federal regulators with authority to enforce their statutory rights, which they have lacked since 1971. And you propose no realistic alternative, only complain that the enforceable schedule resulted in being lengthened. You prefer non enforceable schedules we've always had? That certainly has worked out well.

I allow for the possibility that the STB may not be diligent in enforcing it. We'll see how it works out, but Amtrak now can file complaints directly to the STB about how their trains are being handled at the hands of the freight railroads, and the STB has metrics established to measure the complaint in cold, hard numbers. I also find the fact that the freight railroads fought it hard for 12 years as indicative that they think it just may have some teeth they do not like.

I see this as an improvement over the long run. But complaining with no practical solution in mind is so cool.
 
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Devil's Advocate

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While the STB established the metric and not Amtrak as the first cut at law tried to do, it is pretty darned passenger focused.
Did anyone ask the passengers that live and work along this route what they wanted before dumping this new schedule on them? This looks more like a supply side assumption rather than passenger focused resolution.

Finally, the "present administration" really has little to do with this. The 16 year fight over it ended in December 2020, prior to their taking office. While you may sound coolly cynical, you are actually nihilistic. Amtrak finally has federal regulators with authority to enforce their statutory rights, which they have lacked since 1971. And you propose no realistic alternative, only complain that the enforceable schedule resulted in being lengthened. You prefer non enforceable schedules we've always had? That certainly has worked out well.
Amtrak could have negotiated slower schedules and extra padding without any help from courts and regulators. If the only way to prevent more delays is to make the schedules worse for passengers then we’re robbing Peter to pay Paul.

I allow for the possibility that the STB may not be diligent in enforcing it. We'll see how it works out, but Amtrak now can file complaints directly to the STB about how their trains are being handled at the hands of the freight railroads. I also find the fact that the freight railroads fought it hard for 16 years as indicative that they think it just may have some teeth they do not like.
With passenger trains running near freight train speeds the hosts will have less of a reason to worry about penalties and working age folks will have less of a reason to bother with Amtrak.
 
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merkelman06

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Connections are now showing up in Washington to the Capitol Limited and Silver Meteor. Schedule looks to arrive in Washington about 30 minutes earlier on Saturday and Sunday vs Monday thru Friday. Rush hour in NYP would be my guess as to why.
 

Cal

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Connections are now showing up in Washington to the Capitol Limited and Silver Meteor. Schedule looks to arrive in Washington about 30 minutes earlier on Saturday and Sunday vs Monday thru Friday. Rush hour in NYP would be my guess as to why.
That's a first. I've never seen a difference in weekday vs weekend schedule on LD trains.
 

bms

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With passenger trains running near freight train speeds the hosts will have less of a reason to worry about penalties and working age folks will have less of a reason to bother with Amtrak.
It's striking how much worse the timetable has gotten since this route was handed over to Amtrak. In 1975, the northbound Southern Crescent had a 13 hour, 15 minute timetable from Atlanta to Washington, departing at 7:15 a.m. and arriving at 8:30 p.m. There was also a secondary day train between Atlanta and Washington. Population of the Atlanta area was only 1.4 million then and it's 5.9 million now.
 

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acelafan

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I am "sort of" OK with lengthening the schedule if the train runs more on time, but I doubt NS will actually handle it any better. It's sad some of the freight RRs can't handle just 1 train in each direction, but I digress.

I'm more disappointed they made #20 leave 2 hours later from NOL. Why not just lengthen the trip time to match what reality has shown...like they did with #19?? I must be missing something or did Amtrak just roll over and play dead with NS? The 11PM departure from Atlanta is terrible.
 

me_little_me

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What a joke! Hey, the Class 1s can demand enough hours longer between each station so Amtrak can't possibly be late unless it's their own fault and Amtrak, the freights, and the STB could be satisfied with that. Of course, nobody would take the train but who cares?

How can anyone justify that as a solution?
 

nferr

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I am "sort of" OK with lengthening the schedule if the train runs more on time, but I doubt NS will actually handle it any better. It's sad some of the freight RRs can't handle just 1 train in each direction, but I digress.

I'm more disappointed they made #20 leave 2 hours later from NOL. Why not just lengthen the trip time to match what reality has shown...like they did with #19?? I must be missing something or did Amtrak just roll over and play dead with NS? The 11PM departure from Atlanta is terrible.
The departure from NOL is WAY more convenient IMO. Hated that early morning departure.
 

20th Century Rider

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It's striking how much worse the timetable has gotten since this route was handed over to Amtrak. In 1975, the northbound Southern Crescent had a 13 hour, 15 minute timetable from Atlanta to Washington, departing at 7:15 a.m. and arriving at 8:30 p.m. There was also a secondary day train between Atlanta and Washington. Population of the Atlanta area was only 1.4 million then and it's 5.9 million now.
That's progress???
 

fdaley

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Yeah, Washington after 2 p.m. is a big step down from 10 a.m. And Atlanta after 11 p.m. is awful too, even though that's already the actual arrival time on many trips now.

If there's really an improvement in reliability, that would be a good thing. My fear is that things happen and you still have trains that wind up being 2 hours late, and then the actual time at Atlanta becomes 1 to 2 a.m.
 

me_little_me

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This is the same mentality as the U.S. Postal Service: we'll extend delivery on your first class mail by two days and tell you to is "improved service" because it will arrive "on time."
Two days? I had 2 packages coming from 2 different cities in 2 parts of the country that showed they were being delivered the following day. Three days after the listed delivery day, that day was still showing on their web page and in their emails. The packages both showed up 7 days after the original delivery date. I filed a complaint, got a reply that the local postmaster rep would contact me (although they were not responsible) but never got a call or other contact.
 

jis

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Two days? I had 2 packages coming from 2 different cities in 2 parts of the country that showed they were being delivered the following day. Three days after the listed delivery day, that day was still showing on their web page and in their emails. The packages both showed up 7 days after the original delivery date. I filed a complaint, got a reply that the local postmaster rep would contact me (although they were not responsible) but never got a call or other contact.
Hail to the Trump appointee Postmaster General DeJoy! Afterall it was his brilliant idea to remove automatic sorting machines which he thought made the postal system too efficient for its own good, leaving aside the issue of postal ballots and attempts to manipulate electoral results and all that for the moment. 🤷‍♂️

Mods feel free to can this post ;)
 

zephyr17

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Did anyone ask the passengers that live and work along this route what they wanted before dumping this new schedule on them? This looks more like a supply side assumption rather than passenger focused resolution.


Amtrak could have negotiated slower schedules and extra padding without any help from courts and regulators. If the only way to prevent more delays is to make the schedules worse for passengers then we’re robbing Peter to pay Paul.


With passenger trains running near freight train speeds the hosts will have less of a reason to worry about penalties and working age folks will have less of a reason to bother with Amtrak.
Right, why bother? Regulatory enforceability of passenger schedules is useless. We shouldn't even bother.

Just give up, eh? The very definition of nilhilism.

If you do not like it, propose a practical alternative.
 

jis

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I think it all depends on how well the enforcement works or not. If the train actually operates within 15 mins of schedule more often than not then the slight concession in the way of stretching out the schedule a bit would have been worth it. OTOH if it is just history repeating itself with the trains running the same 2 hours behind a 2 hour longer schedule then all this would be for a nought. Only time will tell.
 
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zephyr17

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I think it all depends on how well the enforcement works or not. If the train actually operates within 15 mins of schedule more often than not then the sligth concession in the way of stretching out the schedule a bit would have been worth it. OTOH if it is just history repeating itself with the trains running the same 2 hours behind a 2 hour longer schedule then all this would be for a nought. Only time will tell.
It has never been tried before, so it is worth a shot in my book.

Agree that the whole thing boils down to whether or not the new enforcement power is actually used. It will take a couple years to find that out. Especially because there is a 6 month probationary period where the STB will monitor performance under the new schedules and metrics but will not take enforcement action, so it'll be awhile before results are seen.

By the way, the RPA was pretty happy with the final reg. They got pretty much everything they wanted. They pressed hard for counting all passenger delay rather than train delay measured at endpoints or specified points.
 

Devil's Advocate

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Right, why bother? Regulatory enforceability of passenger schedules is useless. We shouldn't even bother. Just give up, eh? The very definition of nilhilism. If you do not like it, propose a practical alternative.
So Amtrak passengers will receive an even slower schedule and worse calling times at major population centers in exchange for greater certainty. Does that sound like an objectively better scenario to you? It sounds like we're just trading one problem for another to me. My alternative is to refuse the slower schedule and worse calling times and hold the hosts to current or better schedules. Isn't that the whole point of winning? Otherwise it's just capitulation.
 
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zephyr17

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So Amtrak passengers now receive an even slower schedule and even worse calling times at major population centers in exchange for greater certainty. Does that really sound like an objectively better scenario to you? It sounds like we're just trading one problem for another to me. My alternative is to refuse the slower schedule and worse calling times and hold the hosts to current or better schedules. If that's not possible then I guess this court case wasn't that big of a deal after all.
Well, the whole idea behind having to renegotiate schedules with the new metrics coming into effect was essentially a due process issue, the railroads would have been bound to perform under changed conditions. Not allowing them to renegotiate would probably have completely undermined the ability to enforce it. The conditions under which the existing contracts were negotiated have changed significantly. Not allowing renegotiation would have given the railroads a legal opportunity to tank the whole thing, something they were and are dying to do.

If you think Amtrak or the Federal government has the right to dictate schedules, you are delusional. They are now, and always have been, the result of contract negotiations. The railroads are bound to provide access by law, that is about it.

Your "solution" has no basis. Neither Amtrak nor the Federal government at this point has the authority to do what you propose.

In the end a two hour slower, reliable schedule is better for Amtrak passengers than a faster, but wholly unreliable one.

Since this is probably the first of many, and part of a new regulatory regimen that is not going to change, perhaps we should rather focus on ensuring Amtrak maintains network connections and provide for more community input through this change, rather than wishing for the impossible.
 
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tricia

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Someone please correct me if I'm wrong about this, but wasn't the previous, longstanding schedule agreed to by the host railroads, not "dictated" by Amtrak? And weren't the host railroads bound to honor it?

This new schedule really does look more like capitulation than negotiation. Possibly abetted by lack of support for the long-distance network by the Amtrak management in charge.
 

neroden

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I was originally going say possible NS trackwork, but given the duration, and a phantom booking I just tried for November, it appears to be a permanent change with the Crescent departing NOL at 9:15 am instead of 7:00 am.

The following is conjecture based on one fact. Under the new FRA/STB passenger delay rules, finalized last December, Amtrak and the railroads are to negotiate revised schedules based on the recently issued passenger delay metrics, before the STB begins enforcement of the rules based on those metrics (also with a 6 month probationary period where STB will monitor metrics under the revised schedules but not take enforcement action).

The new schedule could be a result of that and could be the first of many.
First of all, I think you're right. Secondly, I think this means Norfolk Southern is playing ball. The new schedule is, fundamentally, *reasonable*; it actually has better calling times at some cities; it isn't *absurdly* longer, though it is unpleasantly longer; and the places it is longer are places where there were actual congestion issues, not complete arbitrariness.

I expect other railroads to be *much less reasonable*. Lawsuits will probably be required to establish schedules with CN and CSX.
 

neroden

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Not only the business market. Everyone who uses the train at stations from Atlanta to Charlotte will have to plan to board past midnight.
Someone had to get hit with that. And frankly, they managed to hit reasonable times for both Atlanta and for Charlotte. Getting Charlotte out of O-Dark-Thirty should actually help ridership. Even the NOL times are an improvement. Sucks to be Greensville, of course, but again, someone had to get hit with it.
 

Devil's Advocate

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If you think Amtrak or the Federal government has the right to dictate schedules, you are delusional. They are now, and always have been, the result of contract negotiations. The railroads are bound to provide access by law, that is about it.
If the government cannot punish freight hosts for negotiating in bad faith or failing to honor their obligations then what's the point of taking them to court?
 
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