Happening Now

Late Trains Case Deadline Extended

August 25, 2023

by Jim Mathews / President & CEO

Everyone involved in Amtrak’s late-trains case before the Surface Transportation Board now has until September 25 to answer the STB’s detailed and pointed questions about everything from the accuracy of Amtrak’s internal recordkeeping to Union Pacific’s data about sidings, siding lengths, and management decision-making.

On August 18, the Board partly granted Union Pacific’s petition for more time to respond to STB’s requests for maps showing, by milepost, where the stations are, where the territories are single-tracked versus double-tracked, the locations and lengths of passing sidings, and a detailed day-by-day accounting to “identify any passing siding that was not long enough to accommodate one or more train(s) that traveled past that passing siding” during the period covered by STB’s investigation.

In its order last week STB also reaffirmed its commitment to making as much of this proceeding public as possible, questioning why UP redacted some station names from the public version of its submitted list of station names and milepost numbers.

“The Board questions whether UP’s station names were properly designated confidential given that station names are generally publicly accessible and none of the other parties to this proceeding redacted this information,” the Board wrote in its order. “Accordingly, the Board will direct UP to show cause by August 25, 2023, why this information should be designated ‘Confidential’.”

So far today we didn’t find a filing in the docket responding to the show-cause order, but it may have been filed by the time you read this.

While all of this detail may seem mind-numbing and procedural, I think it’s extremely important for every passenger-rail advocate to pay very close attention to this proceeding. Lost in all the legal maneuvering is the real significance of this case to every passenger in America who deserves on-time trains and has had only moderate odds of getting them.

Throughout my travels this summer, when I talk with members and supporters they all wonder with exasperation why we can’t DO something about late trains? What’s happening here at the STB really IS that “something.” Before the FRA’s passenger-rail metrics and standards took effect in the waning days of the Trump Administration, the only practical option was for Amtrak to ask the Attorney General of the United States to go to bat for late passengers. Not bloody likely.

As I’d said in July when the STB agreed with Amtrak’s request to investigate why the Sunset Limited suffers from such perennial lateness, this means that after nearly two decades of finger-pointing and he-said-she-said, the STB – a neutral body with legal authority explicitly granted by Congress in statute – finally is going to get to the bottom of some of the most persistent questions surrounding late trains and the freights’ responsibilities to honor passengers’ legal right to be on time.

You can go back and read all the details here at this link, and when you do I think you’ll see that STB’s staff are asking everyone involved the very hard questions that you wish you had the chance to ask. Let’s keep a close eye on how this turns out. And if you want to keep tabs on the unfolding developments yourself, you can go to https://www.stb.gov/proceedings-actions/search-stb-records/ and look under “Dockets” for NOR_42175.