Durbin Pushes To Improve Amtrak On-Time Performance Following OIG Report

WASHINGTON – Following the recent publication of the Amtrak Office of the Inspector General’s (OIG) report titled “Better Estimates Needed of the Financial Impacts of Poor On-Time Performance,” U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) sent letters to Amtrak and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to continue a longstanding and crucial discourse on the negative effects of on-time performance (OTP) on Illinois Amtrak riders—particularly along the Chicago-to-Carbondale Illini/Saluki route—at the hand of freight railroads.

Durbin offered an amendment requesting this OIG report during last year’s appropriations process, which passed unanimously, so that Congress could better understand the impact of poor OTP on Amtrak’s operations, and how to improve this issue for Amtrak’s ridership. 

“As a firm supporter of passenger rail, I stand ready to continue working with Amtrak, as well as with the FRA to push Canadian National, to improve Amtrak’s reliability for Illinois riders,” Durbin wrote in the letter to Richard Anderson, Amtrak President and CEO.  “The people of Illinois deserve better—they deserve assurance that they can arrive at their destination in not only a safe but a timely manner.”

The report again highlights the dismal OTP along the Illini/Saluki route in particular, citing OTP as low as six percent for Northbound Illini trains and 17 percent for Northbound Saluki trains during Fiscal Year (FY) 2018.  This is a stark decline from an already-low 29 percent OTP on this route as of FY 2017.  Further, the report details how poor OTP leads Amtrak to pay financial penalties for crew staffing violations—and that out of the 1,329 penalties for late trains in FY 2018, 811 of these penalties were paid to engineers on the Illini/Saluki route.

Freight railroads continue to ignore their statutory obligation to provide Amtrak with preference on their tracks.  As a result, freight interference has hampered Amtrak’s financial stability as well as reliability for riders—and it caused roughly 60 percent of Amtrak’s delays in FY2018. 

Durbin has consistently taken an active role in holding Canadian National (CN), which owns much of the track along Illinois routes, accountable for repeated freight interference and speed restrictions that have plagued the Illini/Saluki route with some of the worst OTP in the country.

The full text of the letter to Amtrak is available here.  Full text of the letter to FRA is available here.