FRA and Amtrak Propose Metrics for Passenger Train Delays. Again.

On March 31, the Federal Railroad Administration published in the Federal Register a set of proposed metrics and standards for judging Amtrak’s on-time performance and other factors. Comments on the proposed metrics are due by June 1, 2020. (FRA actually announced the proposal on March 20 but we missed it, because coronavirus.)

“After extensive stakeholder consultation, FRA is proposing new metrics to promote transparency for railroads and travelers alike,” FRA Administrator Ronald Batory said in a statement. “We expect that all parties are interested in achieving higher performance.”

The new rules replace a different set of metrics and standards promulgated by the Obama Administration in 2010. The 2010 rules never took effect. Instead, they have been tied up in litigation since they were issued – they have been the subject of not one, not two, not three, but four separate federal appeals court decisions and two appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court (one successful, one not). (See this ETW timeline of the whole process.)

The 2010 rules were metrics and standards, but the new rules are actually metrics and standard (singular). The new rules prescribe measures for most of the things measured by the 2010 rules (sometimes different ways of measuring, sometimes the same). But the 2010 rules also set forth standards for performance, and improvement thereof, for most metrics – but the new rules set only one standard, for on-time performance. All of the other metrics will be put out there where people can see them, but FRA won’t be judging whether performance is getting better or worse, or comparing to any specific standard.

The only standard remaining is that Amtrak should maintain an 80 percent on-time performance rate for any two consecutive calendar quarters, with the metric for on-time performance streamlined into a single 15-minute scheduled arrival window at any destination. Batory said “Eighty percent is a minimum standard,. We expect many routes will be much more reliable. Clarity should help all parties ensure compliance.”

The 2010 metrics were not written into the Code of Federal Regulations, but the new metrics will be (a new Part 273 of title 49 CFR).

The Association of American Railroads, which kept the 2010 metrics and standards bottled up in court for a decade, has not yet registered its public comments on the new rules.

2010 Metrics and Standards

2020 Metrics and Standards

On-Time Performance

On-Time Performance

On-time performance metric: three separate tests – effective train speed, endpoint OTP (within 10-30 minutes of scheduled, depending on route length), and all-stations OTP (within 15 minutes of scheduled). On-time performance metric: percentage of all passengers on a train who arrive at destination within 15 minutes of schedule
On-time performance standard: four-quarter rolling average vs FY 2008 for speed; 95% Acela, 90% other non-LD, 85% LD for endpoint and all-stations OTP. On-time performance standard: 80 percent for any 2 consecutive calendar quarters.

Train Delays

Train Delays

Train delays metric: total minutes of delays per 10,000 train-miles. Train delays metric: total minutes of delays per 10,000 train-miles.
Train delays standard: On-NEC: no more than 265 min./10k t-m for Acela and 475 min./10k t-m for other trains. Off-NEC: no more than 325 min./10k t-m for Amtrak-responsible delays and no more than 900 min./10k t-m for host-responsible delays. Train delays standard: no train delays standard.
Minutes per late customer metric: no metric. Minutes per late customer metric: average minutes late customer arrival at detraining station, beyond 15 minutes.

Both the old rules and the new rules also maintain a variety of metrics for the finances of Amtrak’s system and of each individual routes, of customer satisfaction with things like food, cleanliness, Amtrak personnel, and the information given to customers, and “public benefit” (things like on-time connection to other modes). Generally speaking, versions of those old metrics are kept in the new rules, but to the extent that there were any standards in the old rules (for example, getting customers to say “very satisfied” on cleanliness or comfort up to 90 percent by a given year), the new rules contain no such standards.

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