Who Owns Amtrak track and Priority of Trains

Fotheringill Sep 2, 2008

  1. Fotheringill

    Fotheringill Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

    My neice takes Amtrak from NY to Washington. She told me that Amtrak has to wait for freight trains to pass through since Amtrak doesn't own the track and the freights get priority.

    Is this true?
  2. Mr. SP

    Mr. SP Passed away August 5, 2016 In Memoriam

    Yes it is true
    Other than the Boston-Washington DC line Amtrak owns no other track. Amtrak has a contract kind of like trackage rights to use the freight railroad's track.
    Since the freight trains make money for the owning railroad Amtrak trains are many times stuck in a siding for freight trains.
    Union Pacific is famous for the practice. The Coast Starlight is very late most of the time so it has been called the Coast Starlate
    BNSF in contrastt does their best to keep Amtrak trains on time or close to it.
  3. MP333

    MP333 TrainBoard Supporter

    When I took the Southwest Chief over BNSF track, we never waited as far as I could tell, and arrived in Chicago on time.
  4. randgust

    randgust TrainBoard Member

    Generally, that's true. There's some real oddballs out there though. There are several cases like the passenger main from Schenectady, NY to Albany, NY that Amtrak has control of the corridor and runs really, really hot. A treat to ride, too.

    There's been some progress in some notable areas. NS and Amtrak worked out a great deal on the Harrisburg-Philadelphia corridor that has had ridership and performance way up. The other area that has really surprised me on how well it is working is the Caltrans corridors (Sacramento, San Jose, etc.) over top of UP. Train density is way up, timekeeping seems very good; etc. So it can work, it just seems like the exception, not the rule.

    Then there's trains like the "Lake Shore Limited" nicknamed the "Late for Sure" on NS/CSX. Heading eastbound, the variability is legendary. You may be on time, or hours and hours late due to freight delays. Once a train falls out of its 'slot' in the lineup, it seems to just get worse and worse.

    The freight railroads basically have a rule.... if Amtrak wants better timekeeping, then be willing to pay the price for more passing sidings, signals, etc. Either that, or go find another route. There seem to be definite single-track corridors where nobody but nobody runs on time, ever.

    Amtrak has started a new metric of measuring passenger delay minutes (riders * minutes late) to establish their attack priorities, and it has had some surprising results. Some of the areas you wouldn't think would be the worse (like the NS line east of Chicago) roll up the delay minutes pretty heavily. That establishes a common-sense rule of its worse to have 1000 riders 30 minutes late than 50 riders one hour late. Putting a value of overtime and labor on those minutes has had an instant result that Amtrak could cut its operating deficits by about a third just on timekeeping issues. Now we're getting somewhere with this analysis.
  5. Charlie

    Charlie TrainBoard Member

    the way I read Fotheringill's post is that his niece travels between NY (NYC?) and Washington DC. If this is correct,then that is the NE Corridor and AMTRAK owns that and there should be no problem with freights delaying passenger trains(or at least no
    excuse). If his niece travels between New York state and Washington state, then that is a different story.

    There is, or at least was, a rule or Special Instruction that dictated that a freight train
    must clear a passenger train with a sufficient lead time and "MUST NOT DELAY THEM"(the quote is from the rule and in caps for emphasis). Sorry I cant find the particular rule, but I remember well the final instruction. If there is another rail who can
    remember the rule,please post it.

  6. Fotheringill

    Fotheringill Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

    She DOES travel between New York City and Washington, D.C..

    If Mr. SP is correct, then Amtrak owns the track and there should be no delays for freight. That is what I was trying to find out. I am sorry for not being clear on one of the points in this point to point.
  7. BoxcabE50

    BoxcabE50 HOn30 & N Scales Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

    The route described should be owned by Amtrak. Within what is described as their "Northeast Corridor".

    Boxcab E50
  8. Leo Bicknell

    Leo Bicknell TrainBoard Member

    A small note on the northeast cooridor.

    Amtrak does own and maintain the lines; but they are far from the only trains using them. A number of commuter railroad use the lines, and yes, even freight. NS and CSX both run freights on the line, many servicing local industries and some through freights. Some information is at:

    Northeast Corridor - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    Back when I was riding the Acela and Metroliner trains tended to stay on the middle two tracks and run at high speed. They seemed to be online virtually all the time. The few other named long-haul trains tended to also ride in the middle at fairly high speed, although they usually took a few more station stops. The local though tended to ride on the outside only, and took all the stations. More than once we'd fly by a local and then a couple of minutes later fly by a freight on the same track in the Acela.

    So, if you're on a local that lost it slot, or behind a freight that is behind schedule and they can't clear the high speed lines for you to pass it may be a while waiting for the freight.
  9. SecretWeapon

    SecretWeapon TrainBoard Member

    They not only own that section,they dispatch it also. I remember sitting at Kearny Jct. for 10 mins. to allow a late Acela to pass. They always hold NJT trains for their own. They may be crossing over the frieght to get rid of him onto the center tracks or to Hunter,so he can go west towards Pa.
  10. subwayaz

    subwayaz TrainBoard Member

    This is as good time as any to ask this question.
    Awhile back I heard a rumor that "We The People" (Government)had part ownership in Amtrak? Is this true??
    Thanks for the info
  11. Leo Bicknell

    Leo Bicknell TrainBoard Member

    Part, no, totally false. Try full ownership!

    Amtrak - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    That's not totally true, some of the predecessor roads hold stock in the company, but basically it's Uncle Sam end to end.
  12. CAPFlyer

    CAPFlyer TrainBoard Member

    Actually, as all of the predecessor roads that still have stock in AMTRAK are public, then it's totally true that it's owned by "Joe Public" since in one way or another, all publically traded companies are owned by the public and simply administered by the individuals whom have the "titles" at the company.
  13. YoHo

    YoHo TrainBoard Supporter

    Interesting that someone on the NEC would get delayed for Freight trains. It seems unlikely since as was said, Amtrak owns and Dispatches it and it's a federal law that Amtrak get's priority over freight (a law regularly broken) could they sue themselves?
  14. Thieu

    Thieu TrainBoard Member

    Could it be possible that stopping the (delayed) freight will make the situation even worse? We have some heavy coal trains that must run between A and B without stopping, because between A and B there is a large bridge and they can't take the risk to stop that freight on the bridge: that would stop all passenger trains for hours. So they give the freight a highball, even if it delayes some passenger trains, to prevent worse.
  15. subwayaz

    subwayaz TrainBoard Member

    Thanks for the info and the link Leo, was interesting reading
  16. Milne

    Milne TrainBoard Supporter

    I was under the impression that when Amtrak contracted with a railway to run its equipment on their rail lines that -

    a) the contract included clauses that required the track to be maintained to a stated minimum track speed.

    b)Amtrak has incentives and penalties for on time performance.

    Under US law, if the railway failed to meet their contract obligations, could Amtrak seek restitution re breach of contract?
  17. Charlie

    Charlie TrainBoard Member

    they do and they collect. Amtrak also pays bonuses to the freight railroads when they
    meet agreed upon standards for on-time operation. The BNSF considers AMTRAK to be
    a profit center. Other posters have stated, and it is my own personal experience,that the
    BNSF will do everything possible to keep AMTRAK trains to time and not impede their progress. I've worked a few road switchers(locals) and we would duck in the clear on a siding or industrial lead or stub to clear the main for an AMTRAK train. I worked a job out of Galesburg as a conductor, the 492/493 pool. This was a manifest freight which we would take to Creston,the end of our division,and turn it over to another crew. 95% of the time
    it was a step on-step off job. I did have work once on the eastbound! At any rate,the first time I worked it the hogger gave me a lot of tips and we got out of Galesburg as quickly as
    we could. We ran ahead of # 3(Southwest Chief). The hogger said that if we didn't have
    work enroute and got out of the yard quickly, we would have "high green" all the way to
    Creston. If not, we would have to duck into a siding and meet #3 and very likely have to
    take a meet with a Q or Z train. Needless to say, we didn't waste time!
    Anyone who has NOT seen the old depot at Creston IA on the (former)C B & Q main should
    take a side trip sometime to see and photograph it! It is a magnificent structure and now
    used for municipal offices!


Share This Page