Happening Now

More On-Time Long Distance Trains in April

May 17, 2024

By Jim Mathews / President & CEO

New Amtrak data released this week show that seven of 15 long-distance trains beat their 12-month Customer on-time performance (OTP) average last month, and for the first time in nearly a decade this year we have begun to see long-distance routes meet or exceed the Federal Railroad Administration’s 80 percent OTP standard.

The Customer OTP standard FRA adopted in 2020 requires that a passenger must step off at their destination within 15 minutes of the scheduled arrival at least 80 percent of the time.

In February, three of the 15 Amtrak long-distance routes exceeded that standard – the City of New Orleans, the Lake Shore Limited, and the Texas Eagle. In the newly released data, the City once again exceeded the standard, notching an 83.8 percent Customer on-time performance record. The City’s 12-month average had been just under 78 percent, close to meeting the standard, but April was the third month in a row this route beat the Customer OTP benchmark.

While Amtrak’s systemwide Customer OTP in April was in line with 12-month averages, that topline number hides some very important improvements. Not only did nearly half of Amtrak’s long-distance routes show improvement in April, but six of the routes were within 15 percentage points of meeting the 80 percent Customer OTP standard.

The tools in the Investment in Infrastructure and Jobs Act “gave us more teeth, and the Surface Transportation Board is rightly being more muscular in its enforcement....We have already seen dramatic differences,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg noted on Wednesday during the U.S. High Speed Rail Association’s annual Washington conference. “They're not where I want us to be, but...you know we got their attention, and saw some real changes and improvements in the on-time performance because of the better-than-before compliance of the Class I freight railroads” in honoring their legal requirement to give Amtrak trains dispatching priority.

Even so, the average minutes late per rider barely budged in April from 12-month average levels, coming in at 55 minutes systemwide compared with the 54-minute 12-month average. For state-supported trains, April’s 45 minutes was unchanged from the 45-minute 12-month average, and for long-distance riders, the average minutes of delay in April were 89, compared with the 88-minute 12-month average.

Amtrak’s best-performing train in April was the Carl Sandburg/Illinois Zephyr, clocking in with 92.7 percent Customer OTP.

Somewhat surprisingly, Northeast Corridor trains just edged out over the 80 percent standard in April, at 80.8 percent, although Acela and several Northeast Regional trains failed to meet the 80 percent threshold in April. State-supported routes also did not meet the standard overall, coming in at 78.2 percent; but, that was two percentage points better than the state routes’ 12-month average.

“I'm very mindful of the importance of using our status as being among the few people who can get calls returned by the Class I railroads, not just for America’s supply chains but America’s passenger rail,” Buttigieg said on Wednesday, “and we will continue to use that in partnership with the [Surface Transportation Board], which I think has a very important role to play here.”