New federal law should help reduce Amtrak delays

The hammer is coming down on freight trains that block Amtrak passenger trains from running on schedule.

President George W. Bush has signed a new law giving federal authorities the power to investigate and fine freight railroads for not giving priority to passenger trains.

On-time performance is a needling problem for Amtrak passengers nationwide, especially in Missouri where tardy trains between Kansas City and St. Louis have contributed to declining ridership in recent years

Amtrak trains were at least 30 minutes late almost one-third of the time in 2007-08, state figures show.

The new law allows the federal government to start an investigation if Amtrak’s average on-time performance is below 80 percent for two consecutive quarters. The definition of on-time has yet to be determined.

A fine could be levied if authorities conclude that the delays resulted from a failure to give preference to Amtrak.

Nationally, freight traffic is supposed to give preference to Amtrak trains running on tracks owned by the railroads. But a recent federal report found that some railroads’ dispatching practices violate these rights.

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