Seven months after Amtrak called on the U.S. Surface Transportation Board to investigate Union Pacific’s handling of the Sunset Limited, the federal regulator announced it would be looking into how the freight railroad has allegedly prioritized its trains over the passenger train. On July 11, the five-person STB announced that it had unanimously agreed to look into the matter.
Federal regulation requires that at least 80 percent of all Amtrak customers arrive within 15 minutes of their scheduled arrival times. That metric is known as “Customer On-Time Performance” and is tracked on all Amtrak trains. However, during the first fiscal quarter of 2022, the Sunset Limited was only on time 40 percent of the time, and it has dropped even further since. During the third quarter of 2022, it was on time just 10 percent of the time and 11 percent during the fourth quarter.
“Today’s unanimous decision reflects the Board’s serious commitment to fulfilling its Congressionally-established duties under the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act to adjudicate disputes over passenger rail on-time performance,” said STB Chairman Martin J. Oberman. “The investigation that we are initiating today is the first of its kind. It involves a significant Board-led component as well as party-led discovery. This framework will ensure that the Board has the information it needs to fulfill its mandate to enforce the preference standards and ensure reliable on-time performance for passenger rail.”
During the first phase of the investigation, the STB will determine whether or not the delays are the fault of UP (the Class I has argued that they are not). If UP is found to be at fault a second phase of the investigation would begin to determine what damages and relief be awarded.
In a statement to the media, Amtrak officials said they were “pleased” with the STB’s decision.