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Talking Freight: Freight and Passenger Rail Operations Coordination Issues and Needs

September 21, 2017

View the September 21 2017 seminar recording



Jennifer Symoun
Good afternoon or good morning to those of you to the West. Welcome to the Talking Freight Seminar Series. My name is Jennifer Symoun and I will moderate today’s seminar. Today’s topic is Freight and Passenger Rail Operations Coordination Issues and Needs.

Before I go any further, I do want to let those of you who are calling into the teleconference for the audio know that you need to mute your computer speakers or else you will be hearing your audio over the computer as well.

Today we’ll have three presentations, given by:

  1. Chris Barkan, National University Rail Center and University of Illinois
  2. DJ Mitchell, Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railroad
  3. Jim Blair, Amtrak

Today’s seminar will last 90 minutes, with 60 minutes allocated for the speakers, and the final 30 minutes for audience Question and Answer.  If during the presentations you think of a question, you can type it into the chat area.  Please make sure you send your question to “Everyone” and indicate which presenter your question is for. Presenters will be unable to answer your questions during their presentations, but I will start off the question and answer session with the questions typed into the chat box.  If we run out of time and are unable to address all questions we will attempt to get written responses from the presenters to the unanswered questions.

The PowerPoint presentations used during the seminar are available for download from the file download box in the lower right corner of your screen. The presentations will also be available online within the next few weeks, along with a recording and a transcript. I will notify all attendees once these materials are posted online.

Talking Freight seminars are eligible for 1.5 certification maintenance credits for AICP members. In order to obtain credit for today’s seminar, you must have logged in with your first and last name or if you are attending with a group of people you must type your first and last name into the chat box. I have included more detailed instructions in the file share box on how to obtain your credits after the seminar.

PDH certificates are now available for Talking Freight seminars as well. To receive 1.5 PDH credits, you will need to fill out a form. Please see the link in the chat box. Certificates will be emailed one week after the seminar.

Finally, I encourage everyone to please also download the evaluation form from the file share box and submit this form to me after you have filled it out.

Our first presentation will be given by Chris Barkan of the University of Illinois and the National University Rail Center. Chris is Professor, George Krambles Faculty Fellow and Executive Director of the Rail Transportation & Engineering Center at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  He is also the Director of the National University Rail Center, which is funded by the US DOT OST-R.  Prior to coming to the University of Illinois, he was Director of Risk Engineering at the AAR in Washington, DC where he was employed for 10 years.  Chris moved to the University in 1998 to lead their railroad engineering academic and research programs.  He teaches several courses on railway engineering and conducts research on rail safety and risk, rail capacity, and railroad infrastructure.

Chris Barkan
Thank you very much. I appreciate the opportunity to speak to you and your colleagues and those that are listening in. This is a very important topic and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.

Let me begin by reviewing the outline of my presentation. First, I will briefly introduce the listeners to RailTEC and the NURail Center.  Then I will talk about passenger and freight rail transport and in particular introduce heavy-axle-load, high efficiency rail freight and high-speed rail. I will talk about the factors affecting shared use rail corridors and some of the implementation challenges.

The University of Illinois Rail Transportation & Engineering Center or RailTEC has roots that date back over 100 years.  More recently in the mid-to late 2000's, we started to grow the rail program. We are among the few academic programs teaching rail engineering in the U.S. RailTEC's scope encompasses all the major branches of engineering and includes rail infrastructure and operations, rail freight and intermodal, intercity, high speed passenger, commuter rail and transit, and the economics and business aspects of this.

Meanwhile, the University of Illinois also serves as the leader of the National University Rail Center, which is a US DOT University Transportation Center, or UTC that you are probably familiar with. UTCs conduct transportation research and education and are funded by the US DOT Office of the Secretary.  The NURail center was formed in 2012 and was the first UTC focused specifically on rail transportation and engineering. One of the reasons why I am participating today is that from the beginning, the NURail Center recognized the importance of shared rail corridors and made research and education related to today's topic a focus of the center.

Let me talk about why North American freight railroads are so successful. Many people do not realize that they are widely considered by the international rail community as one of the most successful freight rail systems in the world. They benefit from substantial economies of scale, the development and maintenance of a strong but lean infrastructure. They are owned by the private sector and this also contributes to their success.

Meanwhile, US passenger rail service is mostly on shared infrastructure that they may or may not own. They are typically powered by diesel-electric locomotives and the maximum speed is typically 79 miles per hour, except on the Northeast corridor and a few other locations around the country.

The intercity traffic is operated almost entirely by Amtrak and it can be divided into two general categories. The Northeast Corridor, or NEC, between Boston and Washington is mostly owned by Amtrak. Amtrak shares this route with a number of commuter rail operators and several freight railroads. The maximum speed on the NEC is the highest of any train operated in North (or South) America. Typical maximum speed is 125 to 135 miles per hour with some limited 150 mph. Outside the Northeast Corridor, Amtrak trains operate almost solely on freight railroads' trackage.  In these areas, power is diesel-electric and the maximum speed is generally 79 miles per hour with trains traveling anywhere from 100 to 2,000 miles.

Let me clear up a little bit of the confusing vernacular used to discuss passenger train speeds in the United States. We refer to both high-speed rail (HSR) and higher speed rail (HrSR). What is confusing is that "higher-speed" rail is actually slower than high-speed rail. The reason has to do with the International Union of Railways definition of high-speed rail as speeds greater than 155 miles per hour (250 kilometers per hour).  As I said, the maximum passenger speed on most lines outside the Northeast is 79 miles per hour. As the US began efforts to increase these speeds, they needed a means to refer to speeds higher than the norm, but not as fast as true HSR, and thus the term higher speed rail or HrSR came into use. Most questions about the use of freight railroads for expanded passenger service are related to higher speed rail service. True high-speed rail in the United States will be on dedicated lines, as it is elsewhere in the world.

Passenger and freight trains have shared tracks for over 150 years so why does the subject require discussion? The answer is that railroads and rail technology - both freight and passenger - have changed.

As I say in this slide, it is not your grandpa's railroad. The most successful railroads are highly specialized for their intended purpose. The various systems are optimized for their respective roles transporting freight or passengers.

True high-speed rail and heavy axle load freight are like oil and water. They do not mix. In fact, I tell my students that HSR and HAL share a track gage and the basic traffic control system but little else. To the untrained observer, they may look similar, but the increasing incompatibility between the modern freight and passenger train operations are factors in the discussion about expanding conventional or higher-speed passenger train operation on freight railroads.

This slide is something we developed a few years ago. I think it is useful in its own right and it also serves as an allegory for other shared corridor issues. It has a historic element to it as well as an engineering one. We have the maximum axle load of passenger and freight trains on the horizontal axis, and their maximum operating speed on the vertical. Below about 100 miles per hour, there is not that much divergence and that was the state of the art throughout most of the 20th century. Fifty-ton capacity railcars and speeds of up to maybe 100 miles per hour operated successfully on the same infrastructure. What has happened in the last half century is that highly efficient freight service has evolved with higher axle loads, twice what they were in the mid-20th century. We now have trains operating with nearly 40-ton axle loads.

Meanwhile, international passenger train speeds were increasing and now exceed 200 miles per hour. Achieving this led to the opposite tendency, lower axle loads are better, so a key element of successful high-speed passenger trains is lighter axle loads. It is interesting to consider that the modern, Japanese high-speed trains have an axle load that is about one fourth that of the heaviest US freight car axle loads. This divergence in axle loads is one of the physical reasons underlying the other challenges we are facing with the attempts to operate higher-speed passenger trains together with high-efficiency, heavy-axle load freight trains.

A key question is how far can we push operations in terms of combining higher speed and heavier axle loads on the same infrastructure and that is the principal subject of my discussion today. Heavy axle load (or HAL) freight in the United States is between 33 and 39-ton axle loads, with speeds up to 70 miles per hour. Passenger train speeds in higher-speed rail operation range from 90 to 110 miles per hour. Can we maintain the efficiency and performance of each?

There is extensive international experience with very high-speed rail but for some of the reasons I have already touched upon, adapting these to the US is nontrivial. There are challenges including safety, infrastructure compatibility, planning, operating requirements, and economic and institutional factors. These require multiple, context-dependent solutions. R&D is needed and implementation is costly. Institutional and regulatory flexibility is essential for success.

A few years ago, we were sponsored by the Federal Railroad Administration to conduct a study to identify the shared rail corridor research needs. Shown here is the cover of the report and it is available at the website below ( ). The idea was to describe the variety of challenges that need to be addressed. Due to limited time I will just present a brief summary of the findings from that report.

There are a variety of safety and risk considerations.  Safety is a top priority for all rail systems, but when it involves passengers it is especially critical.  For example, freight train accidents have the potential to involve passenger trains traveling on an adjacent track, so how can that be prevented?  What should the track spacing be?  This also has implications for the safety and productivity of maintenance crews working on nearby tracks. These and other aspects of operating freight and passenger trains together shown in this slide need to be addressed.

Moving on to infrastructure and equipment, the upper right chart displays some data we collected on the distribution of axle loads on shared trackage. There is a wide range involving loaded and empty freight cars, passenger cars, and locomotives of different types. When you account for these, and the different speeds, it gives some idea of the technical requirements and the variability that must be accommodated by the track system. There are also vehicle-track interaction questions that affect track design and components.  There are track transitions where there is a sudden change in track modulus.  Clearances and platform heights, rolling stock standards, and a number of other technical matters that need to be accounted for if we are going to operate different types of equipment together.

We have different organizations with different planning processes and different priorities regarding operation on shared trackage. There are technical questions related to schedules. There are capacity and service quality implications of combining passenger trains operating at higher speeds with freight trains operating at slower speeds. Train priority difference has a substantial impact on capacity and reliability. There are also capital investment questions related to these sorts of things. And of course implementing PTC has made train control and operations more complex for everyone, but especially for operators on shared trackage.

There are economic and institutional questions related to how to share the cost obligations. Amtrak and other passenger carriers need to worry about having sustainable funding so they can manage their affairs in an effective manner. There are questions about being able to maintain the freight service if we have passenger train infrastructure. There are liability and risk management questions that can be important to Amtrak and other operators. Compliance with regulations in this complex environment is more challenging.

The point is that when we operate passenger trains on freight railroads, or vice versa, we increase the number of stakeholders resulting in multiple, and potentially conflicting, objectives. These stakeholders include traffic controllers and the service operators, various government agencies at all levels, the regulatory community, suppliers, non-government organizations and the general public. For these sorts of shared use operations to succeed, cooperation and regulatory and institutional flexibility is essential.

When considering shared use operations, an important question is who operates the trains and who owns the tracks. In these situations, good partners are essential with each understanding and respecting the requirements of the other. We must understand situations are unique and that agreements have to reflect the desired outcomes of the principal parties involved. Once the joint requirements and the agreement have been articulated, infrastructure configuration can be determined and management of the operation undertaken.

Size and configuration drives the requirements. Railroads are capital intensive and very large amounts of money are needed to construct and properly maintain rail infrastructure and rolling stock. The level of investment drives maintenance requirements as well as the operating objectives, whether it is regular or high-speed passenger.

I will conclude by briefly talking about the Amtrak Northeast Corridor (NEC) because it is the most complex shared corridor in North America.  What many do not realize is that what they are trying to do there is unique in the world. The infrastructure is mostly owned by Amtrak (although not all of it.) They have nine commuter partners operating at different points across this corridor and seven freight partners. They run trains as fast as 150 miles per hour in some locations, and routinely in the 125 - 135 mile per hour range, while at the same time accommodating frequent commuter trains in the 80 – 110 mph range, and seven different freight railroads operating heavy axle loads at lower speeds.  Because of this complexity, the NEC is one of the great laboratories for learning how to do this sort of thing correctly.

This photograph illustrates well why I consider the NEC the ultimate in shared corridor trackage. It was published a few years ago by TRAINS Magazine. In this single picture, we can see an Acela high-speed train, a Northeast Regional Direct intercity train, a freight train operated by Conrail, a commuter train operated by SEPTA and some maintenance equipment working on the track. All these trains operated by three different companies must successfully coexist in this busy configuration.

Let me conclude by acknowledging the sponsorship of the NURail Center by the US DOT Office of the Secretary of Transportation, and the work I described today by the Federal Railroad Administration. My contact information is there as well as the website for the NuRail Center and RailTEC. Thank you.

Jennifer Symoun
Thank you, Chris. You do have a question and we will get to the questions at the end. We’ll now move to DJ Mitchell of Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad. DJ assumed his current position as Assistant Vice President-Passenger Operations in 1996. He began his railroad career in 1981 when he joined BN as Director-Suburban Services, in Chicago, Illinois.  Prior to that, DJ held various positions in the United States Department of Transportation’s Urban Mass Transportation Administration. Today, DJ oversees the operating and capital investment planning, the contract administration and safety management of all commuter rail service operating on BNSF, including the services in Chicago, Seattle, Los Angeles and Minneapolis.  He administers the BNSF/Amtrak operating agreement, works with various states in support of their intercity passenger rail planning and investment programs and participates with others in planning and negotiations related to new-start passenger service on BNSF.  He also manages the corporate business car operations.

DJ Mitchell
Thank you. Good afternoon. I would like to describe the passenger services that operate over the BNSF. The one that has been in place the longest, since 1864-65, is the Chicago commuter service that operates through Chicago, Illinois and carries approximately 63,000 people per day. The next one is in Los Angeles. We do not operate the Los Angeles service. It is under contract with Amtrak. We own the right of way from LA to San Bernardino and we maintain the right away.

The next was in 2000. That was the transit system service and it was between Seattle and Tacoma, Washington and it was a service extension. Today, the Tacoma service goes to Lakewood. We transport approximately 14,000 people per day. In terms of how important it is, we agreed to preserve commuter rail service, the objective was simple from a public perspective and the railroad perspective. The request was to take approximately one lane of traffic off the highway during rush hour. Today, we transport traffic off the freeway. The most recent service is in Minneapolis from Big Lake to downtown Minneapolis and Target Field. On top of that, we have the Amtrak service that runs over BNSF. There are three trains that go from Los Angeles to Denver and Portland. There are other sections that operate. There is a family of regional trains, Chicago to Quincy and San Joaquin Valley from Bakersfield to Stockton and Port Chicago where they go to the Union Pacific from Los Angeles to California and down, north of Los Angeles up the coast and those trains operate between Fullerton and Los Angeles and between Portland and Seattle and Vancouver. We are not the railroad that operates the largest number of passenger trains in the United States. The CSX is. We are number 2.

Chris talked about the differences between passenger and freight operation. I agree with everything he said. I would like to add before I get into this presentation two other thoughts that you need to keep in mind. There are significant engineering differences between the heavy haul freight operation and passenger operation even within the context of the PFL. Two things I found that are most interesting and separate the services, one is an operating issue. The passenger trains operate faster than freight trains in almost all cases. The second is not the gage of the track or the condition of the rail. We have a standard that we use. The surface of the track is most important. As we go through this presentation, I want you to keep that in mind.

What you see here is a spaghetti chart. It is the operation in the course of a day on a division which is part of the Los Angeles-Chicago railroad. When you look at passenger operations and freight operations and how they interact, a very important distinction to draw is how dense is the service in question? If you take a look at Chicago to Galesburg, we operate 2018 freight trains and there are approximately 10 Amtrak trains per day. That is quite easily accommodated. This territory that you see right here, there are two Amtrak trains. Literally, 85 to 112 daily freight trains. Because of that density issue, whether it is light density or heavy density, we have to focus our attention on three important things. One is planning, the run-up to the actual operation of the service. The sliding in and out of cities and terminals and a better understanding of the distances to accommodate overtakes, the difference in speed that I mentioned at the beginning, when you operate passenger service in a dense quarter. It could be in Los Angeles where we operate 85 daily freight trains and soon to be 24 commuter trains. There is a high level plan that goes into the execution of the service plan. When you put together that plan, the sliding in and out of the freight terminal and the stations and the passenger terminal like Los Angeles and Union Station in Chicago is important because when a train actually gets in a dense operation like this, it is difficult to recover. As a practical example, Amtrak has three and four runs across what you are looking at. What you see is a freight train every 15 minutes in one direction or another. It takes 30 miles for a train to overtake and pass and get ahead of a freight train operating 70 miles per hour. In 30 miles, you will confront two uprising freight trains. It is difficult to get around from one train to the other. As you look at this, you begin to plan. I have to make sure that I have enough plans to accommodate the service or I have written schedules that allows the freight trains and passenger trains to work together.

On the next slide, the writing of the timetable is important. This is what we see on a daily basis in Chicago. In the old days what people used to do is important, it is important to write the timetable greatly. Let's ride a couple of trains and write the schedules. The word negotiate has been used a lot over a long period of time. As we have gotten more secure and sophisticated this chart basically is signal data for real trains that operate between Chicago and Aurora. The redline is the actual schedule. The various shades of blue are when the train ran over a multiple set of days. For Los Angeles, we drew data on a single system for an entire year and developed a pattern that looks like this. What we found in Chicago and Los Angeles was that if you do not write the schedule correctly you may have a regular basis with a train in the wrong place and the wrong time. I do not mean an accident. The first train runs well. And the next one is five minutes late and the next one is later than that. By the time you are at the middle the day this happens. You have the recovery time. The meets and passes by midday are happening in San Diego on a single track and that cannot happen. When it happens in that location, somebody is delayed and everybody falls out of a spot. Once that happens, you have to really work at the railroad. That, I assure you is difficult. One of the most important things to keep in mind as we think through how you integrate the service within the environment that Chris correctly described is you have to make sure you have a good timetable and we need to recognize that there are other things that happen.

This next slide is a chart that is real life data of the Pacific Northwest. If you do not know that region, there are things that happen in the wintertime that is different than the summertime. It rains a lot. We have mudslides and soft track. Also because of that, towards the end of the winter we do track work. As you see the green lines where these are within the tolerance bill in the timetable, they go to yellow and/or red. It accumulates and you say what does that do to the timetable? It puts the train out of a slot by 20 or 30 minutes. You are 30 miles away from where you ought to be when you meet an opposing freight train or an opposing passenger train.

As you think about the mixed speeds between the trains you think about the sliding that you have and you have to basically place these trains in a dense territory. You worry about service interruptions like mud slides or service interruptions could be at the station where you are loading someone who takes more time than is planned to get on the train. The more you do that, the more the train gets out of slot. You think of the timetable and the operating environment that will be executed, then we have to worry about what happens next. What happens in the real world? Any number of factors can be brought to play to knock that train out of its slot and out of its land and you have a plan on the fly.

I know this slide is hard to read perhaps but this is a real live document that we provide with the Washington State Department of Transportation. It is between ourselves and the Federal Railroad Administration and Amtrak. We agreed that we will maintain an average of 15.9 minutes delay per train. We will accommodate that delay. Across the top, there are various category delays. CTC issues as the signal system and derailments and you can read it across. Some of my favorites are the maintenance issues. The way we tried to manage the complexity of operating a freight train service in a passenger train environment and vice versa, some of the quarters that he mentioned like San Joaquin Valley and the Pacific Northwest, we have high levels of freight trains operating with high level of passenger trains. As you try to make sure that you can implement that operating plan that is attached to both services, we worry about do we have a reliable signal system? How many times are there CTC barriers? In the process of going through operating in the Pacific Northwest, we upgraded the signal system. There were very few delays going forward. Derailments, those are our responsibility. There have been none. We have to maintain the track. You will see this next. All of these things began to take the trains out of the slots we plan them in. I am looking at the speed restrictions. You can see that during certain times of year, speed restrictions increase in the Pacific Northwest because of track work and weather. If we do not change the schedule that everybody assumes the train will run, you will have an operating plan that is not upgradable.

Stepping back from this detail, what we do here is build a budget for delays. In order to implement the schedule, you can tolerate so many delays per the signal problems and freight interference problem. Passenger trains can get out of slot and you could have a single passenger platform at a station. You cannot have two trains at the station at the same time and somebody has to hold off. We built an operating budget for delays against the timetable and actually as we implemented this in a rainy season, you see relatively few delay minutes on average per each train and the on-time performance is right now approaching 95%. This is the level of detail you have to ultimately get into when you are looking at how to integrate a passenger service with a freight service. The denser the operation in this case in Washington State or in California, you are going to have to go to a level of detail. In Illinois, the rail line I service goes down to Quincy. That service operates in a relatively dense operation and there is more flexibility that reflects that and we have to manage the problems in that there is not as much opportunity for service interruption. With that, I am finished. Thank you, Jennifer.

Jennifer Symoun
Thank you, DJ. Again, I encourage you to type in questions for all of the presenters and we will move on to our final presenter. Jim is Amtrak’s Director Host Railroads. He and his team are responsible for the business relationship with the 29 different railroads that Amtrak trains operate over outside the Northeast Corridor, and the six freight railroads that operate on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor. Jim has been with Amtrak for nine years, all of those in the Host Railroads Group. He came to Amtrak after serving for ten years with management and economic consulting firms, twelve years in the freight railroad industry at Conrail, and four years at General Motors.

Jim Blair
Thank you Jennifer for the invitation. I appreciate the comments from DJ and Chris in terms of setting this up for Amtrak. First off, you can see the Amtrak network as it exists today. We have divided our network into three basic services, which DJ outlined in his presentation. Amtrak has a long-distance network, which provides a valuable transportation alternative to many places that have no transportation alternative. We have the state-supported network, which represents routes of less than 750 miles where many of these are multiple state charters. They exist outside of one state and require interstate coordination. We have the Northeast corridor that Chris talked about as being very dense and complex. You also see the Gulf Coast service that has been in the press lately as a suspended operation for Amtrak for a number of years.

To try and see what each of those looks like in terms of that network, the most dense corridor that we have is the Northeast corridor which represents 11.9 million riders. It is a short corridor but long for passenger services. We provide a very valuable service there. In fact, we have a larger market share in terms of passenger transportation in the market than air between Washington and Oregon and very close in the New York and Boston market as well. Long distance service is a static network with 15 routes having been basically not much different than number of years. The longest route is almost 2500 miles and 4.65 million riders. People think the long-distance network exists for people to get on in Chicago and get off in San Francisco. In fact, most of the ridership that we have, well above 50%, is operating at the intermediate locations. It’s not people that get on it on one end and off at the other. Many times, it is connections to smaller communities en route. Third is the state supported network which is the fastest growing network. We have 19 partner states. There are 29 different routes. There are 14.7 million riders and the most dense corridor we have outside of the Northeast partners is in California. Chicago obviously is coming along quickly.

Looking across the network of the Amtrak system in terms of the host railroad providers, we call them host railroad because we are a tenant on the system and we rely on their infrastructure and maintenance. The coordination between railroads to have our trains move across the system -- looking at that network, this map gives you an idea of where Amtrak systems operate and the carriers over which we operate. Some routes as DJ pointed out span more than one carrier and require a complex set of handoffs. Notification that the train is coming and notification of delays that might be expected or changes in the network or anything else that might happen. Some railroads do an outstanding job of making those transitions seamless.

Looking at the Northeast corridor network, it is hard to see in the larger map but this provides detail about the operations on the corridor in terms of what the host arrangements look like. Not all of the Northeast corridor is owned by Amtrak. Massachusetts and Metro North are owners of track that make up the Northeast corridor and Amtrak is a tenant on their operation. As Chris talked about, the concept of the complexity of railroads having to coordinate issues, this is not only an everyday event but it is an event all over the country. The partners and Amtrak do a good job with this most of the time.

In terms of saying what the host railroad network looks like, 97% of the route miles are on host railroads. We operate over 21,000 miles of railroad. 70% of Amtrak train miles are on host railroads. We are dense in Northeast corridor and that is a difference between the route miles and the train miles. Santa Fe is the largest train mile partner. You can see how the others stack up Metro North by virtue of its position is a significant host to Amtrak as well.

Amtrak, as many of you may be aware, is a product of a government creation. Amtrak was set up under the Rail Passenger Service Act of 1970 to relieve the freight railroads from their prior obligations to provide passenger service. They gave Amtrak the access to utilize host railroad facilities to allow stations and other facilities to be utilized for passenger service. Amtrak is also making payments to host railroads based on incremental cost or short-term avoidable cost. They have precedence over freight and that has been in the press for a number of recent months. It has continued to be a concern of Amtrak over the years. Congress provided for the ability of Amtrak to add additional trains and to request accelerated speeds, which as Chris talked about, it creates challenges in a high efficient freight operations. Ultimately, it provides the ability of Amtrak to achieve its objectives with rail transportation, something that Amtrak has exercised one time in history.

As an update to my bio, we have 37 operating agreements with 30 different railroads. As the network continues to break into smaller and smaller pieces, they sell off pieces of the property. The Amtrak network requires us to negotiate new agreements with new providers or new railroads to continue our services or as we expand, we reach out and negotiate new agreements with railroads that have never had Amtrak services. That has been an exciting part of the Amtrak growth. We go to new communities and we are an agent of economic development in communities where rail transportation was previously unavailable.

Those basic agreements that we have, we call them operating agreements. They deal with the standards and what Amtrak expects for the service and what process we use for developing new service. Working that out with the host railroad, the liability apportionment and disputes and how much we pay. They are the background of our commercial relationship with the host railroad partners.

Oftentimes, these are access myths that we hear in the network or the communications we have. Amtrak bylaw is granted access to the entire national rail network. It is not as if they are not available to Amtrak. There is certainly additional cost that a host railroad may occur because of the Amtrak presence. The access that was granted to Amtrak by Congress is the only one that was able to create Amtrak such as we are, it included buildings and platforms and other facilities to facilitate the mission that Congress gave Amtrak to provide and promote rail transportation. There is no fee for access in the national network. We do not pay to get on. We do pay the cost that a railroad may incur as a result of the Amtrak's presence and the wear and tear as a result of our train operations. Oftentimes they will say, we were not a part of the Amtrak system in 1970 so we do not have to host an Amtrak train. That is not true. That has been litigated and Amtrak has successfully won cases that allows us to access any portion of the US rail network with preference over freight transportation. That is codified in the law. Amtrak has preference with the crossings. The difficulty is actually making that happen. Some railroads work very well with Amtrak and they facilitate the preference. Others do not. Amtrak has the ability to enforce that but it has been limited over the years. We continue to look for opportunities to ensure that Amtrak is getting the preference Congress intended.

There are ways that can be dealt with. Congress provided an out if the provision of that preference would materially lessen the quality of freight transportation provided to shippers. No host has sought to exercise that. Santa Fe has been very cooperative. We work those things out generally before we have to take any kind of action to try and force those issues.

As we talk about the Amtrak payments, it is based on an incremental cost reimbursement. That is defined by number of agencies. In some cases, we pay for host railroad staff due to the presence of Amtrak. We have representatives in each of the railroads that we operate on that are Amtrak liaisons. They help us accomplish Amtrak goals and help support within their own organizations. We found that to be a productive relationship in many railroads and they have found that as well. There are always people that talk passenger in the freight world. That is a valuable thing for Amtrak because as DJ shared, it is not a common language necessarily that all people talk passenger.

The performance that Amtrak trains experience is heavily influenced by the host railroads. As DJ outlined in his presentation, the industry is data rich. That data is used heavily in establishing service and improving performance. As DJ pointed out, what happens if there is a passenger delay or if a delay occurs at a station and boarding passengers? With a heavy load of passengers can cause for an out of slot train. Amtrak looks at the delays on every train across our system every day. We compiled the data and share that data with our railroads and some railroads, Santa Fe is a good example, they make good use of this information to have both parties to get together to find out ways to improve performance. If we find that we are constantly spending more time at any station than we have planned in our schedule, we need to increase the amount of time that we have for a station. If we find that we are constantly passing a train at a location that was not anticipated, we need to look at adjusting the schedule.

As DJ and his team bring data to us, Amtrak brings information to Santa Fe. We are sorting out the information to make a successful passenger operation. We use that information, believe me, we address issues on both sides and it can improve the performance of trains.

As Chris pointed out also, the issue of liability. Amtrak has had a successful liability relationship with our host railroads, which is based on a no-fault system. Amtrak takes responsibility for our passengers and equipment. That generally has worked well in the sense that we are fighting over issues of liability each time something occurs and we try very hard to make sure things do not occur but when they do, we found it is a good way for Amtrak and the host partners to work together to get things resolved quickly and not fight over issues of responsibility.

To Chris's point, Amtrak is a host railroad. He used the same picture that I use here. A representative example of what happens on the Northeast corridor, we have six primary railroads that operate on the Northeast corridor. Several of these are heavy haul carriers. Several are hazmat carriers. It is a very intense operation. While most of the freight operations are preferred scheduled at night, we do accommodate daytime operations for certain expedited freight and for certain freight that cannot be reasonably accommodated by virtue of temporary track work projects or a certain volume of restrictions. We can accommodate a certain amount of activity during the day. That was set up and intended in a congressional structure that Congress set up. Amtrak does not own the franchise of freight operations in the Northeast corridor. Many come to us and they want to operate in the Northeast corridor. That is not something we have to give you. We are a host to the freight operations on the Northeast corridor.

This requires the regular coordination on issues of industrial development. What if they want to locate on the Northeast corridor, that is a coordination issue we have between Amtrak engineering and the host railroad engineering to locate that customer. Where does the switch get billed? How does he get located with respect to the system? Who does the building? All of those kinds of things, we work with our partners on a regular basis. The engineering design issues we are dealing with, those issues are different than the freight operations. We have certain requirements on freight operations where the curve is evident by this picture and it may not be something that is typical of freight operations and it may require additional side-to-side clearances that we enforce and impose upon the freight operations with additional tiedown because of the degree of imbalance. Again, Chris outlined that in his presentation. Planning, as railroads do, we cooperate to service customers and to do track work. It is not to prevent another party of servicing customers and fulfilling their requirements by providing freight or passenger service.

In a regular coordination of operations, all of the things that Chris outlined in his presentation, we live every day. Looking at the freight operations on the Northeast corridor, it is a complicated structure not because of the owners on the structure but overlapping freight lines with the split up of Conrail, the freights were distributed to CFX to a degree of overlap. We could have trains from two different freight carriers seeking to operate on the same route for the same traffic at the same time. Again, in the regular coordination of operations, railroads generally do so well. It works. We find a way to make it work. That is all I have for my presentation. Thank you, Jennifer.

Jennifer Symoun
Thank you, Jim. We are now going to move into the Q&A session, starting with the questions that were posted online. There were quite a few questions and we will try to make our way through all of them.

I will go backwards to Jim. I see a question for you and Chris. Thanks for calling attention to the special challenges of the Northeast Corridor and putting your finger on some crucial issues!  EPA and state air agencies have found that freight trains yielding priority to passenger trains on the NEC and other shared lines can idle for long periods of time when “stranded” outside yards, leading to utter misery.  FRA was great at listening during the NEC Future Tier 1 EIS process to the need to plan for minimizing freight idling not only by building enough track, but ensuring that sidings & other layover areas are sited, sized, operated and equipped appropriately.  Deviations from even the best-laid operational plans, due to missed windows, signal/switch failures and other service anomalies, may entail trip segmentation and crew changes, so the potential duration of secondary idling should not be underestimated.  A blip on a Friday may mean a whole weekend of noise, odor and cardiopulmonary distress.

So this is not quite a question but Jim, I would like to get your thoughts on that and anything else you wanted to add there.

Jim Blair
You know, I guess first of all from an operational standpoint, we work with and asked on a regular basis, for the Northeast corridor, that is a primary operator. We work with them on preplanning freight movement. The movement of freight trains out of Baltimore, we will usually get a lineup with them for our dispatch office and this is what we are planning to run at certain times. It is not as if they show up unannounced. We try to give them an approximate slot operation like DJ talked about with passenger. This is about when we think you we can get you out. They are managing the crews and not requiring locomotives to idle until they can actually get close to the period when they can move across the corridor. Most of the time because of the density, there are stages, there are movements for the nighttime operations when the corridor quiets down. They have a very active period during a short window where a train follows next. We are not aware that there is a significant issue. They are perhaps idling equipment in the yard. Most of what we have seen is equipment is not really idle. It shuts down when it is in the yards.

I know there have been circumstances and we have received concerns from customers of periodically, whether it is a train in distress or a train that gets partway across the network and for whatever reason has to stop. It is idling for a period. The window opens up again.

Jennifer Symoun
Do the six freight rail operators have to have special cab-signaling systems (ATC/ATS?) installed in their locomotives in order to run freight trains on the NEC?  I'm guessing this is a requirement due to the much higher speeds of Amtrak Acela Trains on NEC?  And perhaps installation of PTC will make this requirement for freight rail operators a moot point?

Jim Blair
It makes it more complex. You know, the NEC has a number of unique signaling, not completely unique but overlapping signaling structures that freight railroads are required to have and were to operate. That was a patchwork of different requirements on the north and a different set of requirements. PDC is helping to normalize that to a standard. Amtrak was installing a common system that the commuter operations that operate are installing. There is a relatively common PTC structure for train operations on the Northeast corridor. There is also relatively a secondary system and we are cooperating to install a second system. There will be two systems operating on portions of the Northeast corridor simultaneously, which gives freight operators in those areas the ability to utilize either system but they have to use one of the systems. PTC has not made the issue go away. It has made the issue somewhat more complex and certain carriers have to install equipment that they previously did not.

Jennifer Symoun
I realize the focus of your presentation was on passenger/freight rail coordination, but what kind of challenges does Amtrak have with coordinating with commuter rail operators, both on tracks Amtrak owns and tracks the commuter rail operators own?

Jim Blair
Many of the same things that DJ outlined in the commuter corridors where we have freight-passenger and they are all operating. With Amtrak operations and commuter operations, we operate slot operations. We are trying to put our trains in a fashion that is around their commuter operations. Since we make fewer stops, CSX has a commuter operations. We try to get an Amtrak train out in Washington, DC ahead of the commuter train. If our train is delayed, we follow a commuter train and make stops behind it. We are not stopping at the station, we are delayed by virtue of the commuter train making the stops. We work hard to schedule our train to get ahead of the commuter trains, particularly in rush-hour where the station stops and commuter trains could be five minutes. Potentially, they could consume a lot of track time on the rail infrastructure. You know, we work with Chicago Metro. We work with for the tracks, Metro-North and BTA for operations on their lines and we accommodate the New Jersey transit service. Again, our scheduling group spends a lot of time trying to find tune the schedules. The delay data we used to help track that helps us to know whether we need to do more tuning. Just like DJ's example in California. When you look at the data and a performance tells you whether or not you need to tune up your schedule a little bit. Good question.

Jennifer Symoun
What type of planning is ongoing to address adding passenger rail service to rural or less densely populated area?

Jim Blair
There are state initiatives that we have for extending existing services to other population areas. Some of those have gotten press. Others are in their infancy. We are looking at adding services, which I will call add on, so to speak to speak to our long distance network. Can we access other communities, be it a combination of small and large that could be added to the long distance network? There are certain issues that have to be dealt with there. Chris did a good job of talking about the complexity that goes along with that. We are always looking at opportunities to increase Amtrak services with state-supported services or additional long distance services where that makes sense. The one that receives the most press lately is the Gulf Coast, which is the restoration of limited operations to Florida and east of New Orleans. Is served coastal communities that have been without Amtrak service for quite a number of years.

Jennifer Symoun
DJ, I will ask you a few questions. AMTRAK operations in the west require coordination with BNSF and UP.  Does this require coordination of BNSF and UP freight operations?

DJ Mitchell
In the West, there are two places where we interface. One is in the Port of New Orleans. And Port Chicago. North, that is UP, South is BNSF. There is a degree of coordination that exists in a higher level in California. The dispatch center is to gather in San Bernardino and we coordinate the operation up and down the valley. In the Northwest, since Portland is a very hard line, there is a different operating plan south of Portland. Coordination does not play a role in the train going from UP. Usually, we know they are coming and we coordinate to that extent. We plan for Amtrak to run north of Seattle with the rest of the flow of the 40 some odd freight trains per day. The other place we have a coordination opportunity is in Chicago. It has to do with coordinating all of the operations in Chicago. The governing board is sitting above the Chicago command center, where each of the railroads have a representative and we monitor the flow of traffic across Chicago so the problems that you can anticipate with trains coming from the East or the West, we know where they are and when they are coming and when to expect and interchange of traffic and we can accommodate that move. There are 94 community trains on our line. That is very important. That is not handled in a way that is traditional. This is overseen by all the railroads.

Jennifer Symoun
Regarding train conflicts and managing a busy rail network, multiple international markets (Germany specifically comes to mind) are able to maintain meticulous on-time performance. Does the US operate rail networks differently, which makes on-time performance so difficult to maintain?

DJ Mitchell
The answer is yes. Chris and Jim can chime in after I am done. The European experience is different from ours. We have a unique freight operation that is different from the freight operations in any place in Europe or the UK. Our freight trains are longer. The operation on our property in key corridors is more dense than anything you have in Europe. As the freight trains move along and you have the Amtrak trains moving along and with the complexity that you have and the fact that we run our operations the way we do to maximize the flow of freight and Chris said it correctly, we are a private company. I am not embarrassed or chagrined. We have to make those trade-offs. The one slide I showed you, the way we manage the railroad is that we see the accumulation of slowdowns over time and we will fix those and sometimes it is capitalized maintenance. We let those accumulate until we fix them. You may see a slower change. The summer is different than the winter across all of the railroad for the same reason it is across the highway network as well. You fix things in the summer. We prepare the railroad for winter operation and you will see summer construction. The passenger interest has two choices. You have to slow down or you change the timetable. Amtrak does both. Sometimes they change the timetable or sometimes they say it is sufficient and I have sufficient recovery time. It is a different operating environment where we find the freight trains as a primary user, where in Europe, the passenger is greater.

We have a relatively dry operation where we have very few physical problems and you are able to maintain the railroad with rain in the Northwest all winter. It is a different operating environment. There were grants funded that hardened the corridor down to Portland. We have seen a significant reduction in slowdowns because of the work done there, but that was the need to reduce slowdowns. The freight tolerance as I indicated but did not hit it on the head, but the tolerance for freight on-time performance is a shift of a day or a couple of days. That is good enough. The on-time performance for passenger is plus or minus five minutes. Even long distance services, it is plus or minus 30 minutes or 15 minutes. Those tolerance demands a different infrastructure and maintenance plan and a different operating plan than exists in Europe.

Chris Barkan
This is Chris. I will chime in on this myself. The question that is being raised that DJ is addressing is the subject of extensive research at the University of Illinois. My colleague has a multi-student program to understand how the interface between what we call flexible scheduling, which is the North American practice, versus typical European or passenger service which is scheduled. It is a fascinating problem. From an academic perspective, we have opportunities to explore interesting questions but there is a pragmatic aspect that Jim and DJ and others have to deal with on a day to day basis. The fundamental question is, how do you take the North American freight network, which practices a flexible dispatching philosophy. They do that because that leads to highly efficient operations and because of the margin of the tolerance for delays that DJ mentioned in a freight service. They are different than what is acceptable for a passenger service. One thing we find when we talk to our European academic colleagues, they are investigating a different set of questions about scheduling and capacity and how to optimize than we are when we are analyzing the freight railroad scheduling and capacity and analysis. This is the point I was making very briefly in my presentation, trying to do both of these things in the same system, the same network is new ground. We do not have answers that we can pull off the shelf. We are conducting research to understand the most important factors in effecting service quality. What are the potential pathways? What does it mean in terms of the infrastructure design and a whole host of things? This is one of the reasons that I alluded to in my presentation on why trying to combine passenger operations and freight operations offers a number of technical challenges.

Jim Blair
I do not have anything to add. Chris is right. There are challenges here. You know, the railroads are bringing good data to the table to try to resolve each of these issues. It has become more complex given some of the regulations of key train operations and things like that that place more competition on the network. It is competition for the mainlines, competition for times, competition for routes. It keeps it interesting.

Jennifer Symoun
We have some questions for Chris. I would assume that other countries/operators have the same complex list of stakeholders to work with when planning rail services. Why is it that the international community has significantly surpassed the US in implementation of passenger rail services?

Chris Barkan
The question is an excellent question. Why can they run such successful passenger rail systems and it is more of a challenge in the United States? First of all, for true high-speed, they are running on dedicated rail lines. If you go to Europe or Japan or China and you ride on a 200 mile-per-hour train, you are running on the right of way that never sees a freight train as part of the high-speed network. Those trains do get on the conventional network to get into various terminals where they operate in lower speeds. The other thing is that those systems are operated for passenger service. I touched on that already but they are not trying to run the same freight railroad operation that we are in North America. The consequence is shown in that chart, it is an amazing chart. What we are looking at is dark red, these are different nations and the vertical axis is the percent of total inland freight and black is the rail percentage and gray is road. The two on the left is the US and Canada, where a larger percentage of freight is moving by rail than by road. That is different than the European nations as well as Japan, where much larger fractions of the freight is moving by truck. If you can imagine what our highway network would be like if the shift off of railroads to the highway was like what we see in any European nation, it would have a huge effect on the congestion and wear-and-tear of the infrastructure. These networks, these railroads do want to run freight but when they do, they lose money on freight transportation. That is not the case in this country, where the freight is private sector owned. The shareholders receive a dividend on their investment. I do not think it is a coincidence that we excel in freight service in this country and the Europeans excel in passenger service. It is because of these challenges with the company challenges that have to be overcome on our network if we are going to achieve high efficiency freight and high quality passenger service.

DJ Mitchell
Chris, you are 100% right. As a matter of public policy, the question is, where do you want to put your money? We put our public money in the highway system. Sometimes it baffles me. We have a high speed proposal between Dallas and Houston, there are a number of people from farmers who worry about steers to people who worry about noise pollution. They say you cannot do this. You should not do this. The consortium that is trying to advance high speed railroad, they made progress but they have not started construction and there is no deal even though they are not seeking any public money to build the core system between Dallas and Houston. You see in our state where I live in Texas, we will spend $400,000 on updating that highway.

They debate. It has taken that TRE in Fort Worth for an extension of community rail service probably close to 20 years to get that off the ground. The point is, there is opposition from the communities, and there is a public policy question that is part of the mix.
Jennifer Symoun
We have three minutes left. If Jim and DJ and Chris, if you are available, we can try to get through as many other questions as we can. If you have to go, I will not hold you longer. Maybe we can take a few more questions if we go past the end time.

Chris, could you offer any observations or analysis of how the "Higher Speed" rail implementation is working/performing on the Chicago / St. Louis corridor where there are now some segments of 110 MPH Amtrak operations?  Are there any issues with the mix of these "higher speed" Amtrak corridor trains between Chicago and St. Louis and the UP freight train operations, which are perhaps medium levels of density (not comparable say to DJ Mitchell's BNSF string diagram)?

Chris Barkan
Actually, I have another slide, let me go back. It just so happens that the chart there illustrates something related to this question. Let me set the stage. I do not have close contact with the UPA line, the high-speed upgrades. Is correct there are some sections where they run 110, but the majority is 79. The plan is to get a larger fraction up but there is a need for continued funding. My understanding is that things are working reasonably well. We are running half a dozen passenger trains. Not all of them go 110 miles per hour. I think the freight traffic is not high either. They do plan to increase that in the coming years.

To relate that to the charts, this is work done by one of our graduates for his Master’s thesis. What you're looking at is trains per day on the horizontal axis and delay per 100 freight trains on the vertical axis. What the student was doing was asking the question, what is the effect of having additional trains? The left-hand chart shows adding additional freight trains, which are using the same speeds and priorities as the other trains on the line. The right-hand chart shows an equivalent number of trains at a higher speed passenger train.

That is a hypothetical line. It is modeled after an operation with single track and passing sites. There are two messages. As you add trains, the delay increases but what is noticeable is that to some extent, you see the delay increasing a little bit more rapidly. But what is more interesting, it speaks to reliability of service. There are more trains at higher speed than the other trains operating on that route.

You are adding freight trains, the point is that adding that with the priority has this affected not only the increasing delay but also increasing the variability in that delay and that speaks directly to reliability of service.

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Updated: 1/2/2018
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