Sunday, March 18, 2012

NS slows Amtrak down to 25mph in Michigan

Blames track problems and no need for them to maintain it to higher standards for freight:

Michigan’s version of high-speed passenger rail has hit a speed bump.
Barely a month after Amtrak trains started running at 110 mph in parts of Michigan on the Chicago-to-Detroit route, the passenger service is now crawling as slow as 25 mph on a nearby section of the corridor due to poorly maintained track, Amtrak officials said Thursday.
The slow zone imposed by Norfolk Southern Railway, which cited track safety reasons, is adding as much as 1 1/2 hours to the total scheduled trip time of 5 1/2 hours between Chicago and Detroit, said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari.
The slow order was imposed Thursday by Norfolk Southern on stretches of track the railroad owns between Kalamazoo, Mich., and Ann Arbor, officials said. Amtrak trains formerly operated at up to 79 mph on the segment.
Norfolk Southern said it has no plans to restore the track conditions for faster trains, saying its freight train traffic is operating smoothly at 25 mph.
Amtrak trains will continue to run at up to 110 mph on most of the segment that Amtrak owns between Kalamazoo and Porter, Ind., officials said.
But that increase in speed over the previous 95 mph maximum cut only 10 minutes off the running schedule.

I'm surprised that the contracts with Norfolk Southern to run trains over their territory did not specifically require that they appropriately maintain the tracks to a standard sufficient to maintain 79 miles per hour for Amtrak service. Looks like the consequences of that folly are coming back to bite them.


  1. Amtrak can exercise eminent domain over freight tracks it uses if and when the owner allows track conditions to deteriorate to the point that they become nearly useless for passenger travel. Amtrak has exercised this privilege in the past. I think there's a good chance this could happen here if NS continues to be intransigent.

  2. True that they have the power and have used it in the past; however I don't believe it will be used in this case. This line is already in negotiations to be sold (raising questions of how it was that it was permitted to degrade; normally there are agreements to prevent that during negotiations), and while Guilford, now Pan Am, couldn't really hit back at Amtrak for seizing part of Boston and Maine, Norfolk Southern has plenty of marginally legal ways to interfere with Amtrak if they should be sufficiently riled.

  3. The real problem is that the purchase negotiations are taking too long, which is a problem sourced at the Michigan Department of Transportation and NS. I have no inside information on these.


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