• Passenger or Freight: Who should have track priority?

  • General discussion about railroad operations, related facilities, maps, and other resources.
General discussion about railroad operations, related facilities, maps, and other resources.

Moderator: Robert Paniagua

  by MaRoFu
In the United States, passenger trains are unfortunately very delayed in many areas. A considerably large amount of these have been caused by rail companies giving freight trains priority over passenger trains on their tracks. Amtrak, for example, may operate over tracks owned by Norfolk Southern, CSX, or Union Pacific. There have been many disputes regarding this, so who, in your opinion, should have track priority and why?
  by DutchRailnut
Amtrak gets track priority, if they run on time . if their late they take pot luck.
why would owner of rail line hold a multi million dollar train for train with 40 to 120 passengers which runs late anyway ?
the incentive pay from Amtrak to freight carriers is not worth it to hold that multi million dollar intermodal.
  by ExCon90
As to the question of which traffic "should" receive priority, it's worth noting that freight trains earn a profit--a real profit, including maintenance and replacement of physical plant--whereas passenger trains need to be subsidized, as their airline (and private-automobile) competitors are. If the freight trains weren't there, the tracks wouldn't be either, and freight traffic is subject to being diverted if the shippers are not satisfied with the service. The widespread adoption by manufacturers of "just-in-time" delivery (to save on storage and inventory costs) means that shippers are much more demanding than in the days when freight trains were routinely sidetracked for every passenger train. Just to throw a little more weight on that side of the scale, the traffic managers who control the routing of millions of dollars' worth of freight no longer travel by train and thus are not influenced by the quality of a particular railroad's passenger service.
  by ctclark1
It's been discussed often, It is not a case of the host railroads necessarily "prioritizing" one way or another, but in the grand scheme of things there are "slots" for every train being dispatched, more specifically Amtrak has a specific chance to hit a "slot" of priority where they are dispatched and lined to encounter as little slowdown as possible. However once Amtrak runs late and misses that slot, the hosts' responsibility changes back to keeping everything else moving so that as the example was given, the multimillion dollar intermodals make their payday. Moving Amtrak through the division when they finally get there is no longer the "slotted" movement it once was and Amtrak has to wait in line with the rest of the traffic.

Clearly this happens more often than would be appreciated by the riders, but it's a fact of the beast. The biggest problem is that one holdup early in the journey can mess up the entire schedule. For example, Let's say 49 (LSL Westbound) is held up at Syracuse because of a problem on CSX rails, now they've not only missed their slot leaving SYR, but they've now lost their slot on every division and host from there to Chicago. Sure, the dispatcher in the area may still try to prioritize them getting out as much as they can, and let's just say the Rochester and Buffalo Terminal dispatchers* might be feeling nice too because they understand what the problem was, but as soon as 49 gets out of the state, and especially onto NS track at Cleveland, there's no hope because the dispatchers can try, but their priority is to their own railroad since Amtrak is operating out of slot at that point, becoming a cascading problem all the way down the line, slower and slower, later and later.

*Please don't blast me if I listed the dispatchers wrong, I haven't been able to keep up lately with what desks to and don't exist in the Albany Division anymore...
  by Engineer Spike
My railroad tends to prioritize Amtrak. We have two round trips per day. There have been times where Amtrak was as delayed for a minute or two. This is especially true if they are late. There is one siding where my job sometimes meets them. The siding is short, there are crossings involved, and there is a detector, which gives a bad reading if speed goes below 8 mph.If we’re in that slot, then they will let us hold back, and put Amtrak in the hole. This costs a few minutes of delay, but our delay would be really significant if we waited at the last siding that we fit, which is 23 miles back. There are some tight curves, so the running time is long, even though the distance is short. I’m sure that there is enough padding in the schedule. If nobody is getting off at a station, and no one is there to board, I’m sure that they slow down until that case is determined, and then they highball.
  by dave1905
Railroads are required by contract to give Amtrak "priority". However "priority" is a relative thing. For example on one territory, a 125 mile long single main track section that freight operated primarily in one direction and Amtrak operated in both directions, freight trains would be held up at the WWD crew change 125 miles away before the AMTK running against them even departed the EWD terminal. Why because there were only about a half dozen sidings on the line and it was common to have 8-10 WWD trains in that 125 mile stretch (including an opposing AMTK).

On a bi-directional line it was common to put freight trains into sidings 100 miles ahead of the passenger train to minimize delays. And on a bidirectional line you also have to put the trains in the SAME direction as AMTK in the hole because the 79 mph AMTK will overtake and be delayed by the 50 mph freight train.