The AAR submitted its comments to the STB this week in the pending STB rule making proceeding to determine what shall constitute “on-time performance” for Amtrak trains running on the lines of the freight railroads. See the AAR filing here. Amtrak, of course, in an effort to boost ridership, is asking the STB to adopt a performance metric that looks at on-time performance at each and every stop along the route. The freight railroads have argued that it would be confusing and unfair to impose this stricter standard on their performance.

Most of the operating agreements between Amtrak and its host railroads already include on-time performance requirements between the origin and final destination of each train. These measurements were carefully negotiated between the parties and include some level of flexibility in the schedule, so that short delays incurred early in the route can be offset by schedule improvements later in the route. Amtrak is seeking to have these negotiated milestones replaced by a much more strict system to determine on-time performance.

Having enjoyed my first trip on the Chunnel last week, I can see how reliable and fast inter-city passenger train service can be a great transportation alternative to auto or air travel. But the Chunnel operates on a dedicated track, largely grade separated from roads, and makes almost no intermediate stops. If Amtrak wants to be able to deliver similar service, it will take much more than imposing stricter on-time performance metrics on the freight railroads over which it operates.