The Amtrak Problem: Trains Were Delayed 1.42 Million Minutes Last Quarter

According to Amtrak, within the past year train passengers had been delayed for 11 weeks when you calculate all the delayed minutes, with only 28% of trains running on time. 

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According to Amtrak data, in the latest quarter Amtrak trains were delayed for a total of 1.42 million minutes, a 9% increase in delays when compared to the previous quarter. Within the past year, passengers were delayed for 11 weeks total when all the minutes were calculated. Only 28% of the trains were on time. 

“That record is even worse than those numbers indicate because each of those long-distance trains is given a 30-minute grace period before it is officially designated as late,” said travel author Jim Loomis. 

Amtrak doesn’t have dedicated tracks outside of the Northeast and parts of Indiana and Michigan, according to USA Today, and utilizes the same rails as freight trains. The research also shows that Americans in general don’t put a lot of energy into worrying about the train systems throughout the nation, which makes it difficult for the company to change the actual issues at hand. 

“Joel Sutherland, a professor of supply chain management at the University of San Diego and a former CSX Railroad official, said America’s rail network is set up to favor freight trains,” according to USA Today.

“Amtrak must share the rail lines with freight trains, and freight trains tend to get priority. This is especially true west of the Mississippi where the rail infrastructure is lacking compared to the East Coast.”  

According to Amtrak, waiting for freight trains is the main reason for train delays. In general, America’s railroad network favors freight trains, even though the law requires passenger trains to be prioritized. The law has been difficult to enforce, which is why a bill was sent to Congress to make it easier for Amtrak to enforce the priority of passenger trains, however, the bill has since been stalled. 

Amtrak has also called for an investigation to be made regarding Union Pacific Railroad’s favoring of freight trains over passenger trains; the investigation is now in progress. Train passengers in America also don’t receive any protections when it comes to compensation for delayed or canceled trains. 

Amtrak, legally, doesn’t have to compensate passengers who experience delays. In comparison, Europeans get a 25% refund on their tickets if their train is delayed between one and two hours, and a 50% refund if the delay is longer than 2 hours. According to Marc Magliari, an Amtrak spokesman, Amtrak sometimes does offer compensation in the form of credits to delayed passengers.

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“We always encourage customers to let us know about their trips, what went well, and what did not. For the most part, we work with them individually on whether credit for future travel or a refund is appropriate.”

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Rail experts claim that the only thing that could truly fix all of the current Amtrak issues is new investments into passenger rail infrastructure, which would include new trains, high-speed tracks, and generous government support. 

“It’s past time to have a national conversation about rethinking, funding, and fixing America’s rail infrastructure. The delays will only worsen the longer we wait,” said Bill McGee, a senior fellow for aviation and travel at the American Economic Liberties Project

Christopher Elliott, a journalist who focuses on consumer support and travel, posted some tips for avoiding travel delays on USA Today

“Sign up for delay alerts: You can do that on the Amtrak site. The sooner you know about a delay, the sooner you can make alternate plans, like driving or flying.

For long distances, take Amtrak only on reliable routes: Amtrak’s City of New Orleans, between Chicago and New Orleans, is the most punctual (if you can use that term) long-distance train in the most recent quarter, with a 79% on-time rating. It’s followed by the Capitol Limited between Washington and Chicago (74%) and the Lake Shore Limited between Boston/New York City and Chicago (68%).  Avoid chronic laggards, like the Sunset Limited between Los Angeles and New Orleans, which is on time only 19% of the time.

Avoid the train entirely: While a train might be faster for some routes (notably where Amtrak owns the tracks in the Northeast), you can often get there faster by driving or taking a bus. For longer distances, flying is almost always more cost-effective and convenient if there’s an airport at or near your destination.”