January 31, 2023 - TRA Newswire -

Union Pacific, BNSF Railway and Canadian National (CN) have responded to a complaint filed by Amtrak that the railroads "substandard" dispatching has affected the performance of its Sunset Limited service that runs between New Orleans and Los Angeles. Amtrak's tri-weekly long-distance passenger train is the only passenger service in the southern tier of Texas from El Paso on the west to Beaumont on the east. It primarily operates on Union Pacific tracks along with a short portion on BNSF and two miles along a CN track leased to a short line railroad. 

In a January 27 filing, Union Pacific asked the Surface Transportation Board (STB) to order that Amtrak and all parties to "engage in mediation to resolve or narrow the issues in dispute." Short of an mediated agreement, UP said the board should look to a docket from 2012 that investigated substandard performance on rail lines of Canadian National and adopt a schedule based on that case  (Docket No. NOR 42134).  The other railroads also filed notices to the STB.

Amtrak said, in its December 2022 filing, that it incurs as "extraordinary amount of freight train interference" on long segments of the Sunset route. Amtrak claims that UP routinely holds up the scheduled train by prioritizing freight train movements that result in an average of more than four hours of delay for passengers per trip. Statistics show that the Sunset Limited is Amtrak's worst performing train in on-time performance. 

Union Pacific contends that the train schedule is the main cause of the on-time performance issues.

Amtrak has asked the SurfBoard for a two step approach. FIrst to “commence the investigatory phase of proceedings by (i) authorizing Board staff to conduct preliminary fact-finding; (ii) directing the authorized staff members to request documents from Amtrak; (iii) directing the preservation of relevant host railroad records; (iv) directing the authorized staff members to request documents from host railroads; and (v) interviewing witnesses, making site visits, and gathering and evaluating any other relevant data; and entering an appropriate protective order to facilitate prompt production.”

The second step, according to the Amtrak request of the STB, would be to "identify reasonable measures and make recommendations to improve the service, quality and on-time performance of the train". Amtrak contends that if delays to the service are proved to be the fault of the host railroad, "it must also determine whether to award damages and other reasonable and appropriate relief.”

Delays to the Sunset Limited service can also cascade to Amtrak's daily Texas Eagle at San Antonio, where the Eagle has coach and sleeping car passengers join the Sunset between the Alamo city and points west to Los Angeles. 

The Sunset Limited serves El Paso, Alpine, Sanderson, Del Rio, San Antonio, Houston and Beaumont in Texas.