Delayed by Freight
Measuring On-Time Performance Across Our Network
What are Freight Train Interference Delays?
Waiting for freight trains is the largest cause of delay to passengers.
Freight train interference — a dispatching decision made by a freight railroad to delay an Amtrak passenger train so that their freight trains can operate first — caused 900,000 minutes of delay in 2021.
Freight train interference happens because some freight railroads ignore the law.
For over 50 years, freight railroads have been required by law to provide Amtrak with “preference” to run passenger trains ahead of freight trains. However, many freight railroads ignore the law because it is extremely difficult for Amtrak to enforce it, and as a result, people and the American economy suffer.
Legislation protecting passengers’ rights has been introduced
Federal legislation may be required to ensure that freight trains are held accountable. For example, in 2021, Sen. Dick Durbin and Rep. Donald Payne, Jr. introduced the Rail Passenger Fairness Act (S.1500 and H.R.2937) to allow Amtrak to enforce our existing right to “preference”. The preference law is already on the books. This new legislation would simply allow Amtrak to defend our legal rights and ensure passengers are not unfairly delayed by freight trains.
Long Distance On-Time Performance Deteriorates Again in Spring 2022
The on-time performance of long distance trains has declined significantly in recent months because of freight train interference delays, further evidence of the vital need for the Rail Passenger Fairness Act. Take June 2022, for example:
|Percentage of On-Time Customers by Route - June 2022|
|Auto Train||Orlando – Washington, DC||25%|
|California Zephyr||Emeryville – Reno – Denver – Omaha – Chicago||12%|
|Capitol Limited||Chicago – Cleveland – Pittsburgh – Washington, DC||30%|
|Crescent||New Orleans – Atlanta – Charlotte – Washington, DC – New York||35%|
|Empire Builder||Portland/Seattle – Havre – St. Paul – Milwaukee – Chicago||48%|
|Silver Star||Miami – Tampa – Savannah – Raleigh – Washington, DC – New York||15%|
|Southwest Chief||Los Angeles – Flagstaff – Albuquerque – Newton – Chicago||7.3%|
|Sunset Limited||Los Angeles – Tucson – San Antonio – Houston – New Orleans||6.3%|
Who is Delaying Amtrak Passengers?
The Host Railroad Report Card grades the largest freight railroad hosts based on the delays that Amtrak customers experience while traveling on host tracks. Each Amtrak route that travels on host railroads is also awarded a pass/fail grade based on how often customers arrive on time.
The Host Railroad Report Card includes FAQs on why Amtrak trains are delayed by freight trains.
2021 End of Year Report Card Highlights
Host railroad performance generally worse than last year.
14 out of 15 long distance routes and more than half of all State-Supported routes failed to meet on-time performance metrics and standards, set by the Federal Railroad Administration.
Freight trains are still the #1 cause of delay to Amtrak passengers.
While the law has required railroads to provide preference to passengers over freight for over 50 years, freight trains caused 900,000 minutes of delay in 2021 alone — that’s more than a year of passengers waiting for freight to go first.
The amount of freight rail volume does not affect Amtrak delays.
Data analysis finds there is no correlation between the level of freight rail volume and the amount of delay to Amtrak passengers. Although freight rail volumes decreased over 10% from 2006 to 2019, Amtrak’s on-time performance worsened. The truth is that when freight railroad leadership decides to dispatch Amtrak trains according to the law, on-time performance will improve, literally overnight.
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