STB launches the Office of Passenger Rail | So Good News
Marybeth Luczak, Managing Editor
On October 1, the Surface Transportation Board (STB) established the Office of Passenger Rail, responsible for investigating and analyzing issues regarding Amtrak on-time performance (OTP).
“Section 213 of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 (PRIIA) authorizes, and on qualified complaints requires, the STB to investigate the causes of substandard passenger train OTP; to identify mitigation measures; and, in specified circumstances, to prescribe relief,” the STB reported October 13.
On November 16, 2020, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) adopted a final rule establishing metrics and minimum standards for measuring the performance and quality of service of Amtrak’s intercity passenger trains—after nearly 10 years of a contentious battle involving Amtrak and the host carrier. railroads that twice reached the United States Supreme Court. (FRA was charged with doing so under PRIIA.)
The STB said FRA, in conjunction with Amtrak, “announced a ‘customer OTP’ metric to measure passenger train OTP, with a minimum standard of 80% of passenger arrivals at stations to occur within 15 minutes of scheduled time for two consecutive calendar quarters.” ” This standard became effective on 1 July 2021.
Complaints may be brought by Amtrak, by an entity for which Amtrak operates intercity passenger train service, by an intercity passenger train operator, or by a host freight railroad.
In April 2021, STB established an internal working group for passenger trains to prepare for its new enforcement obligations. The group was charged with “developing plans to improve the agency’s capacity to meet its passenger train oversight efforts and to ensure that it will fully meet its obligations to enforce OTP requirements,” STB said.
In August 2021, STB appointed Neil Moyer, a senior staff member from the Office of Public Assistance, Governmental Affairs and Compliance, as well as Ryan Lee, an attorney from STB’s case office, to develop and begin implementing a plan for OTP investigation processing and resource allocation. According to STB, both have been working with the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Volpe National Transportation Systems Center “to develop data tools to quickly analyze FRA’s quarterly performance data on a timely basis.”
A director of the Office of Passenger Rail will now be hired, according to STB, which noted that it is in the process of establishing, pursuant to the Federal Advisory Committee Act, a Passenger Rail Advisory Committee to advise STB on matters of passenger transportation.
“The creation of the Office of Passenger Rail is the next step in a carefully planned strategy for the board to fulfill its responsibility to investigate and enforce Amtrak’s timely performance,” said STB Chairman Martin Oberman. “The agency stands ready to handle all timely performance cases that are filed. We are fully analyzing the quarterly data from FRA, and we are developing a basis for determining whether any board-initiated investigations may be necessary. The other board members and I look forward to working closely with Amtrak and the freight railroads in the nation’s efforts to improve its passenger rail system.
“I would like to extend a big thank you to Mr. Moyer and Mr. Lee for their excellent work as the development team for this new office.”
“Amtrak welcomes the board’s increased focus on on-time Amtrak performance, an important issue for our service reliability and something our customers have a right to expect,” Amtrak said in an Oct. 13 statement. “We look forward to working closely with STB’s new Office of Passenger Rail to enforce FRA’s performance standards for intercity passenger rail.
“We will also participate in STB’s new advisory committee for passenger trains. This will provide an opportunity for issues to be raised and resolved before they require investigation.”