Durbin Stands With Amtrak, Renews Call For Surface Transportation Board To Investigate Canadian National

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – In response to a complaint filed by Amtrak to improve the on-time-performance of trains operating in Illinois over tracks controlled by Canadian National (CN), U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) called on the Surface Transportation Board (STB) to investigate record levels of freight train interference and – if necessary – award damages to improve the performance of this critical Amtrak route. The STB was granted authority by Congress in 2008 to enforce Amtrak’s rights to the rails.

In August, Durbin convened meetings in Chicago, Champaign, and Carbondale between STB Chairman Dan Elliott, Amtrak Board of Directors member Tom Carper, and local stakeholders to discuss record levels of blocked rail crossings and the resulting poor Amtrak on-time-performance from Chicago to Carbondale. More information on those meetings is available here and here.

“Following years of failed overtures to CN and attempts to work with the railroad in addressing on-time-performance and safety issues, Amtrak has been forced to take unprecedented action to improve the safety and reliability of passenger rail service in Illinois,” Durbin said. “I stand fully behind Amtrak in this effort, and I call on the STB to take quick action in investigating and remedying CN’s interference along the Illini and Saluki passenger rail routes. Communities in Illinois deserve better, and I encourage them to join me in voicing their support for safe, reliable passenger rail service in our state.”

In 2008, Durbin helped pass legislation that gave STB the authority to enforce Amtrak’s rights to the rails. In July, Durbin called on the STB to exercise its authority to investigate the causes of Amtrak delays and enforce on-time performance standards. As a result of CN’s obstructions and delays, Amtrak trains along the Chicago-Champaign-Carbondale route – which is owned and operated by CN – arrived on-time only 54 percent of the time during the last fiscal year, and is one of the worst corridor routes in the nation. Durbin also wrote to Amtrak’s president and CEO Joseph Boardman and its board chairman, Anthony Coscia, asking for a study to increase the number of trains along the Chicago-Champaign-Carbondale line.

In January 2012, Amtrak filed a complaint before the STB about CN’s interference with the on-time performance of Amtrak trains on the Chicago-Champaign-Carbondale corridor. This was the first ever on-time performance complaint filed with STB since the 2008 Amtrak Reauthorization law. Amtrak and CN have tried mediation conducted by the STB to resolve the situation but OTP has continued to decline and CN has been more recalcitrant in the face of the recent D.C. Circuit Court decision invalidating the on-time performance metrics.

Durbin also wrote CN CEO and President Claude Mongeau in June, calling on the rail company to address ongoing safety and traffic issues including: CN’s lack of cooperation with the State of Illinois and Amtrak, which has hindered efforts to expand rail service in Northern Illinois between Galena and Rockford; increased rail traffic that has resulted in a record rate of blocked rail crossings; and CN’s refusal to work with local communities to resolve safety issues.

The full text of today’s letter to the STB is available below.

September 02, 2014

Chairman Daniel R. Elliott III

Surface Transportation Board

395 E Street, SW

Washington DC 20423

Dear Chairman Elliott:

I am writing in support of Amtrak’s recently filed complaint calling for an immediate investigation and potential awarding of damages to relieve the abysmal on-time-performance of Chicago-Champaign-Carbondale passenger trains.   I have worked in Congress to give the Surface Transportation Board (STB) broad authority to investigate and remedy poor on-time-performance of Amtrak trains, and I strongly encourage you to use this authority in this case and ensure the reliable performance of the Illini and Saluki trains.

The Chicago to Carbondale route has become the train with the poorest on-time performance of its kind in the country.   The main problem along this line is freight train interference by the host railroad, Canadian National (CN).  The law gives Amtrak preference on our nation’s rail lines, but despite this right, freight train dispatchers make Amtrak trains wait while long, slow trains pass them on the tracks.

To help bring attention to the poor performance of this route, I hosted several discussions about on-time-performance with local elected officials, transportation advocates, university officials and students in downstate Illinois.  Stakeholders agreed the increasing number of late trains is hurting the local and regional economies along the route and that the STB must act as soon as possible to remedy the situation.

The Amtrak complaint before the Board is the first on-time performance case brought to the STB since Congress granted it the authority to investigate these matters in 2008.  It is particularly important for the STB to take a strong stand in this case so that Amtrak’s rights to the rails are retained and protected.   Reliable service is vital to the continued success of Amtrak and passenger rail transportation, and it is up to STB to make sure passenger trains are meeting high standards and arriving on-time.  

Thank you for your attention to this important matter.




Richard J. Durbin

United States Senator

Cc: Ann Begeman; Deb Miller