Amtrak and Commuter Railroads: SEPTA, MARC, VRE, NJT (was Bullying)

Discussion related to Amtrak also known as the National Railroad Passenger Corp.

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mcgrath618
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Amtrak and Commuter Railroads: SEPTA, MARC, VRE, NJT (was Bullying)

Post by mcgrath618 » Tue Jun 18, 2019 10:34 pm

https://www.railwayage.com/regulatory/a ... ets-septa/
Amtrak is tightening the screws on three commuter operators using its infrastructure—Virginia Railway Express (VRE), Chicago’s Metra and now the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA).

In 2015, Amtrak lobbyists buried in a 1,030-page highway bill language to redefine its Northeast Corridor (NEC) to include track owned by Amtrak’s Washington Terminal Company. VRE’s contract operator, Keolis Transportation—which won a competitive bid to replace Amtrak years earlier—uses that track to reach Washington Union Station.

Had the provision—which no member of Congress admitted to sponsoring—not been excised after this column exposed the maneuver, it would have undermined VRE’s ability to seek Surface Transportation Board (STB) relief from Amtrak abuse.

In 2018, Amtrak sought to purge the common carrier status of Chicago Union Station (CUS) by merging it into Amtrak. The intent, says Metra, which carries 100,000 passengers weekly and accounts for 83% of CUS arrivals and departures, is to block Metra’s ability to seek STB relief were Amtrak to impose discriminatory access fees. A Metra challenge is pending before the STB.

Amtrak just can’t stop emulating 19th century railroad tycoons—termed “robber barons” in 1859 by The New York Times. Amtrak’s latest assault on the public interest is directed at SEPTA, which operates over Amtrak’s NEC some 200 daily commuter trains serving 40 stations and carrying 12 million passengers annually. Amtrak has sued SEPTA in federal court to end SEPTA’s rights to operate over the NEC. Success would allow Amtrak unilaterally to impose hefty station-rent increases, or sell or lease the stations for commercial development.

SEPTA’s opposition relies on a congressional mandate laid out in at least three statutes—the 1973 Regional Rail Reorganization (3-R) Act, the 1976 Railroad Revitalization and Regulatory Reform (4-R) Act, and the 1981 Northeast Railroad Service Act (NERSA). They created and transferred to SEPTA and other NEC commuter railroads permanent rights to operate over the NEC and use the
passenger stations.

In exchange, SEPTA bears all station costs directly, and pays Amtrak for use of its tracks under congressionally established cost allocations. SEPTA says it invested more than $228 million over the past 15 years in station capital improvements. Amtrak pays nothing toward six stations SEPTA and Amtrak share.
Absolutely abhorrent behavior on Amtrak's part.
Last edited by Jeff Smith on Fri Jun 21, 2019 10:55 am, edited 1 time in total.
Reason: Updated title

Gilbert B Norman
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Re: Amtrak Bullying Commuter Railroads, Newest Target is SEPTA

Post by Gilbert B Norman » Wed Jun 19, 2019 6:47 am

"Government suing Government"; and the winnah is. The L(I)A(wye)RS!!

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Re: Amtrak Bullying Commuter Railroads, Newest Target is SEPTA

Post by mtuandrew » Wed Jun 19, 2019 7:10 am

Congress wants Amtrak to break even. Congress wants Amtrak to charge reasonable rents and ticket prices.

Pick one.

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Tadman
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Re: Amtrak Bullying Commuter Railroads, Newest Target is SEPTA

Post by Tadman » Wed Jun 19, 2019 7:50 am

It's a lose-lose situation. Feds want states to pay more, states want less taxes, Amtrak wants to "break even" whatever that means, etc...

Meanwhile Amtrak doesn't get along with SEPTA, Metro North delays Amtrak, Michigan is P-O'ed at Amtrak over the Michigan trains, Indiana can't figure out why they're paying $3m/year for one awful train/day carrying 150 people when the same state runs 40/day for $12m carrying 12,000/day.

It's all kind of crazy. I'd split it up into an infrastructure company that owns NEC, another one that owns the Michigan track (sell it to Michigan?), a long distance company, and let the privateers open up the corridor(s). Despite what our resident socialists feel, the number show privatisation has been a resounding success for ridership in the UK, which has more than doubled since privatisation in 1997. It hasn't been without its hiccups, but the entire point of publicly owned and operated passenger trains has been to provide a public good, and it seems the private sector is providing twice the units of public good in the same setting.

See graph: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/ ... 0-2015.png

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Re: Amtrak Bullying Commuter Railroads, Newest Target is SEPTA

Post by Jeff Smith » Wed Jun 19, 2019 8:20 am

I'm going to do a little cross-posting to the relative commuter RR forums.

Amtrak does have a history of this, most recently over MNRR plans for Penn Station Access. All the while, they run over NYS and CT owned tracks.
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Re: Amtrak Bullying Commuter Railroads, Newest Target is SEPTA

Post by mtuandrew » Wed Jun 19, 2019 12:46 pm

Tadman wrote:
Wed Jun 19, 2019 7:50 am
It's all kind of crazy. I'd split it up into an infrastructure company that owns NEC, another one that owns the Michigan track (sell it to Michigan?), a long distance company, and let the privateers open up the corridor(s). Despite what our resident socialists feel, the number show privatisation has been a resounding success for ridership in the UK, which has more than doubled since privatisation in 1997. It hasn't been without its hiccups, but the entire point of publicly owned and operated passenger trains has been to provide a public good, and it seems the private sector is providing twice the units of public good in the same setting.

See graph: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/ ... 0-2015.png
So while you’re in the process of selling off the NEC, you’ll also force the Class 1s be broken up into operating and right-of-way companies, and further you’ll force open access freight? Because that’s the only true way to make your comparison to Britain fully accurate. :wink:

Amtrak does seem to be happy to sell parts of its railroad to state agencies like MassDOT, and I’m a little surprised it hasn’t sold its legacy Michigan Central to the state of Michigan for $1.

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Re: Amtrak Bullying Commuter Railroads, Newest Target is SEPTA

Post by jonnhrr » Wed Jun 19, 2019 1:54 pm

A British like "Privatisation" would not work for the national network because of the Class 1's and that you might not get many takers for the LD trains. US is not like Britain with its high population density, inadequate road network and high cost of driving. It might work in a more limited scope, basically the Northeast Corridor and maybe a few other places where Amtrak or a state owns the trackage, although I would be hesitant to mess with success stories such as North Carolina. If it ain't broke don't fix it.

Say we just limit it to the NEC for now as it is the area that most closely resembles Britain. We set up an infrastructure company e.g. "AmRail" to maintain track and stations. Amtrak and the commuter agencies pay for track access and it's a level playing field, they all get awarded slots with no favoritism. For Freight carriers it isn't much different for how it is now except they pay AmRail instead of Amtrak.
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Re: Amtrak Bullying Commuter Railroads, Newest Target is SEPTA

Post by WhartonAndNorthern » Wed Jun 19, 2019 2:07 pm

Tadman wrote:
Wed Jun 19, 2019 7:50 am


It's all kind of crazy. I'd split it up into an infrastructure company that owns NEC, another one that owns the Michigan track (sell it to Michigan?), a long distance company, and let the privateers open up the corridor(s). Despite what our resident socialists feel, the number show privatisation has been a resounding success for ridership in the UK, which has more than doubled since privatisation in 1997. It hasn't been without its hiccups, but the entire point of publicly owned and operated passenger trains has been to provide a public good, and it seems the private sector is providing twice the units of public good in the same setting.

See graph: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/ ... 0-2015.png
In general I agree with splitting the budget and authorities for operations and infrastructure maintenance. I don't mind the idea of Amtrak being an agency that does centralized marketing, goal-setting (which route and when), ticket sales, livery colors, maybe even equipment ownership (capital purchases) while rail operations are contracted out.

However, a RFP was released a few years back looking for contractors to take over three long distance routes at a fixed cost of 90% of the current subsidy. No one bid. To me that suggests the firm fixed price model won't work (and didn't work for Iowa Pacific) and that a cost-plus (all documented costs covered plus a guaranteed profit) model is needed.

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Re: Amtrak Bullying Commuter Railroads, Newest Target is SEPTA

Post by electricron » Wed Jun 19, 2019 2:49 pm

Amtrak is only trying to get operations and maintenance costs back. Which seems unfair off hand when these operators and state DOTs invest in capital upgrade costs. But let’s keep in mind that O&M and capital upgrade costs are usually kept under completely different budgets.
MBTA and MTA North bought their share of the NEC as PennCentral went bankrupted before Amtrak existed. SEPTA, NJT, and MARC could have too, but instead chose to let Con-rail, a federally subsidized railroad arising from PennCentral’s ashes, assume ownership. They could have avoided later Amtrak fees just like MTA North and MBTA, where this arrangement is the other way around. Was this a lack of vision or a lack of state finances decades ago?
Con-rail corridors in Michigan ownership has been divided multiple times. Amtrak assumed ownership in western Michigan to maintain connections to Chicago, its’ hub in the Midwest. Michigan assumed ownership in eastern Michigan to maintain control of the rail corridor between its’ major cities, not really that concerned over connections with Chicago. Just like California, Georgia, Florida, Missouri, Alaska, and other states are more concerned with in state rail operations than out of state. Nothing surprising here. When you get down to the basic truth, thisis almost always true with all state governments.

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Re: Amtrak Bullying Commuter Railroads, Newest Target is SEPTA

Post by davinp » Wed Jun 19, 2019 5:01 pm

Before 2010, Amtrak used to operate & maintain VRE trains.
Amtrak was upset they lost the contract to Keolis.
VRE still pays Amtrak to use Union Station and store its trains during the day, but Amtrak wants that storage area back.
So, VRE is looking at a new storage facility.
Also, Amtrak sometimes delays VRE trains. Amtrak insists their trains are prioretary meaning they must go first.

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Re: Amtrak Bullying Commuter Railroads, Newest Target is SEPTA

Post by rcthompson04 » Wed Jun 19, 2019 5:38 pm

An interesting issue to say the least. I have long thought the ultimate way to solve the Amtrak problem is to break off the Northeast operations into a corporate entity owned by the respective states for $1 (the Feds get nothing from decades of deferred maintenance). The states would be responsible for maintenance costs based on a formula of track mileage, passengers riding, and frequency of service of Northeast service and local service. This means the biggest beneficiaries would subsidize the most if there is no profit. State supported routes would remain and be encouraged to bring in more revenue. It is probably more expensive for the Northeast, but it would end the never ending whining over Amtrak.

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Re: Amtrak Bullying Commuter Railroads, Newest Target is SEPTA

Post by Suburban Station » Wed Jun 19, 2019 10:00 pm

Why is it abhorrent to seek full payment from agencies? Vre should have to pay for access just like everyone else. Congress has made it clear amtrak is not to subsidize commuter operators. If there was an infrastructure authority it would have to include metro north and massdot but these issues would still exist.

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Re: Amtrak Bullying Commuter Railroads, Newest Target is SEPTA

Post by mcgrath618 » Wed Jun 19, 2019 11:18 pm

Why should SEPTA not have rights to operate over the NEC? I'm not trying to get into the whole "good, widespread service vs turning a profit" debate, but why should a commuter agency that is an essential service to one of the largest metro areas in the country not have rights? SEPTA already pays Amtrak a hefty sum of money, and as said in the article, there are six stations that the two entities share that Amtrak doesn't have to pay a dime for.

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Re: Amtrak Bullying Commuter Railroads, Newest Target is SEPTA

Post by rcthompson04 » Thu Jun 20, 2019 5:49 am

I am not surprised by Amtrak’s antics. There has been a deterioration of service in SEPTA’s Amtrak territory over the last several months that is quite noticeable. Service was actually improving then it took a serious turn for the worse a little after the beginning of the year.

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Re: Amtrak Bullying Commuter Railroads, Newest Target is SEPTA

Post by mtuandrew » Thu Jun 20, 2019 7:30 am

Amtrak honestly just needs an independent arbiter that takes into account both the hosts and the tenants, and can decide who is responsible for what (whether the physical plant maintenance, delays, or stations.) That someone or those someones wouldn’t work at One Mass, but would have the ultimate say over issues such as Amtrak wishing for more compensation from commuter roads, or whether Amtrak can pursue legal action against its own off-Corridor hosts.

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