Happening Now

New FRA Rule Stands With Passengers

November 13, 2020

The Federal Railroad Administration on Monday will publish its Final Rule in the Federal Register spelling out minimum standards Amtrak must meet for passenger rail service, including the best and simplest measurement for on-time performance – the Customer OTP standard, which your Rail Passengers Association has long supported and which we encouraged FRA to retain in the Final Rule.

It’s also an important milestone for anyone who relies on passenger rail to have the FRA publish and stand behind minimum standards for intercity passenger rail service after more than a decade of seemingly endless litigation-driven delays.

“Tens of millions of people in hundreds of American communities have been waiting for more than a decade to see this moment,” said Rail Passengers’ CEO Jim Mathews. “Passengers have a right to be on time, and the proposed rule – while not perfect – gets us all that much closer to getting there.”

Rail Passengers was especially pleased to see how strongly the Federal Railroad Administration held firm on maintaining the passenger-focused way of assessing routes’ performance, even in the face of fierce pressure from freight railroads to water down the rule or substitute different OTP measurement schemes. The Customer OTP standard reports the percentage of all customers who arrive at their stop no later than 15 minutes after their published arrival time, reported both by train and by route.

“The Customer OTP metric focuses on intercity passenger train performance as experienced by the customer. Customer OTP measures the on-time arrival of every intercity passenger customer, including those who detrain at intermediate stops along a route and those who ride the entire route,” the agency said in a lengthy preamble to the Final Rule’s text, laying out FRA’s rationale for accepting or rejecting suggestions made by stakeholders and commenters.

“FRA believes the OTP metric should measure train performance from the eyes of the customer," FRA said. "The Customer OTP metric is meaningful, precisely because it is reflective of the passenger train’s actual performance.”

The rule includes several other improvements over the status quo, including publication of quarterly reports on customer-service performance in important areas such as cleanliness and food service, and reporting financial performance measured and published against both the PRIIA-required “Avoidable Costs” standard and the existing fully allocated costs methodology.

FRA did make a concession in the Final Rule to make the measurement period take effect six months after the Rule is published, and also offered a further five months during which Amtrak and freight railroads can try to negotiate modified schedules that take the new Customer OTP standard into account.

Your Association was more disappointed, however, that the Final Rule declined to embrace a bolder standard for ensuring that passengers and taxpayers truly receive the services for which they pay. In particular, FRA declined to take steps that would compel Amtrak to enhance customer surveys to recognize and include the disabled, the elderly, special-needs and rural passengers, as well as measuring indicators of the degree to which passengers require accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA.

FRA also rejected Rail Passengers’ recommendations to assess public benefits of rail service more broadly than is done today, to include the effects of economic contributions to served communities, network- and multiplier effects, the financial contributions of connections and the effect of degraded OTP on connections. FRA’s rationale was that these additions would be too complex and expensive to implement. While we disagree, we will continue to press in Congress for broader assessments of the value of the Nation’s taxpayer-funded investments in passenger rail service.

You can read the entire Final Rule and FRA's explanation of its reasoning here at this link.