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A federal regulator is launching a new office to investigate Amtrak’s on-time performance.
The Surface Transportation Board, an independent agency that oversees rail, debuted the office earlier this month to monitor the passenger rail corporation’s delays. The effort could address recent concerns from lawmakers and stakeholders about clogged railroads.
“The agency stands ready to handle any on-time performance cases that are filed,” STB Chairman Martin Oberman said in a statement Thursday, adding that the regulator is “developing a basis for determining whether any Board-initiated investigations may be necessary.”
Amtrak has urged lawmakers to increase regulation of freight railroads. The corporation has complained that freight train interference causes delays for its operations, including 900,000 minutes of delay last year.
The office will accept complaints filed by Amtrak, intercity passenger rail operators, or host railroads. Amtrak’s operations often use rail owned by freight companies.
Last year’s infrastructure law (Public Law 117-58) included a provision requiring the STB to establish a passenger rail program.
The STB said it is hiring a director for the new office, and is also working on creating a passenger rail advisory committee.
Lawmakers have increased their focus on freight railroads after turbulence in the industry slowed supply chains. House Democrats proposed legislation (H.R. 8649) to expand the powers of the STB, seeking to address their concerns with freight rail and aid passenger service. The bill would require a passenger-freight rail transportation advisory council, and mandate that passenger service be accommodated in railroad mergers and acquisitions.
Amtrak has also faced criticism for several lengthy delays this year and for how it handled them. Virginia Democratic Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine asked Amtrak to improve its communication after passengers complained about being stuck on a train for more than 24 hours in their state during a snowstorm.
The Rail Passengers Association said this week it was concerned changes hadn’t been made since the senators’ request — particularly after a more recent 13-hour delay. Jim Mathews, president and CEO, said despite Amtrak’s challenges — ranging from shortages of mechanics and workers, to freight train and weather problems — it needs to respond better when there are delays.
“We have heard stories all summer long about disrupted trips and passengers being treated poorly,” Mathews said.
To contact the reporter on this story: Lillianna Byington in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org