Amtrak blames tardiness on freight, rail work

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Amtrak blames tardiness on freight, rail work

Unread postby BNSF 1088 » Sat Oct 23, 2004 4:01 pm

Amtrak blames tardiness on freight, rail work
ALBANY, N.Y. -- Forget about high-speed rail. How about on-time rail? For passengers waiting to catch the regularly hours-late Lake Shore Limited out of the Rensselaer Rail Station, that would truly be an innovation worth cheering for, according to this report by Cathy Woodruff published by the Albany Times-Union.
"I take the train because it is much more comfortable, but the lateness drives me crazy," said Cecilia Molesky of Cohoes as she awaited the Lake Shore Limited, which was running three hours late on Friday.

Her planned 6 p.m. arrival in Boston was looking like it would be closer to 9 p.m., meaning that her plans to accompany her daughter and twin grandchildren on a car ride back to the Capital Region would be pushed into the early morning hours.

Unfortunately for Molesky, her train, the only rail option for area travelers heading to Boston or Chicago, was again living up to its nickname, "the Late-for-Sure Limited."

The Lake Shore, which runs daily across upstate New York, ran on schedule just 25 percent of the time in the past year, according to Amtrak. That was a sharp drop from even the lackluster on-time performance of 48.6 percent the previous year.

Meanwhile, Amtrak's Empire Corridor trains, which shuttle passengers between upstate and New York City, also kept passengers waiting. Only two-thirds of Empire trains arrived on time, a drop from nearly three-quarters of the time a year ago.

It's not a record the national passenger rail carrier is proud of. Amtrak officials blame the bulk of the delays on heavy freight traffic.

"Freight congestion is a problem that is getting worse, not better," lamented Amtrak spokesman Cliff Black. "The tonnage has never been higher, and the freight railroads have been downsizing for nearly 60 years. The freight railroads, in many cases, have difficulty getting their own trains over the railroad."

Amtrak's trains frequently run on tracks owned by others. In New York, the track owners include two freight railroads, CSX and Canadian Pacific, and the Metro-North commuter railroad near New York City.

And for trains like the Lake Shore Limited, which runs west to Chicago and east to Boston (as well as a leg that splits off to New York City in Rensselaer), hundreds of miles are traveled on freight-owned lines.

"We're clearly not satisfied with 66 percent for the Empire or the very, very low 25 percent for the Lake Shore. However, most of our customers are aware that the heavily traveled Rensselaer-to-New York segment is much more reliable than the figure would indicate," Black said.

Bruce Becker, president of the Empire State Passengers Association rail advocacy group, said the trains need to stay on schedule.

"We're certainly concerned with it. There has been a distinct deterioration this year west of Albany and north of Albany," said Becker, who now lives near Buffalo. He said it's been a particularly vexing issue for western New Yorkers traveling to New York City on business.

"They expect it to be on time. It arrives an hour or two hours late. That obviously is quite a problem," he noted.

On-time figures for trains running only between Rensselaer and New York City were not available because Amtrak does not tally that information separately. On a typical weekday, 14 trains run between the two cities.

A few more longer-distance trains, including The Lake Shore Limited, The Adirondack and The Maple Leaf, also shuttle passengers between the two cities.

Amtrak's Empire Corridor, which carried 1,093,965 passengers this past year, is the railroad's third-busiest, behind the Boston-to-Washington, D.C., corridor and the Pacific Surfliner in southern California, both of which have riderships of more than 2 million passengers a year.

Some factors that slowed Empire Corridor traffic this year might well improve in coming months, Black said. He said track work undertaken by CSX is near completion and will improve conditions, and Amtrak's rehabilitation of maintenance facilities should cut down on equipment-related delays.

Looking ahead, Amtrak has set on-time performance goals of 70 percent for the Lake Shore Limited and 85 percent for Empire trains, targets that Black said the railroad considers reasonable.

"We're realistic enough to realize that perfection is, perhaps, only attainable by the Celestial Railroad and, perhaps, Swiss railways," he said with a laugh.

(The preceding report by Cathy Woodruff was published by the Albany Times-Union on Thursday, Oct. 21, 2004.)

October 22, 2004
Director of Save Our Trains Michigan

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