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Rail Law Alert: FRA Issues Proposed Rule Concerning Intercity Passenger Rail Metrics and Standards

On March 31, 2020, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (the Proposed Rule) containing metrics and minimum standards for measuring the on-time performance and service quality of U.S. intercity passenger train operations (the Metrics and Standards). Public comments on the Proposed Rule, which is available here, can be submitted online at http://www.regulations.gov under the docket number FRA-2019-0069. The FRA has instructed that any comments should be received by June 1, 2020. The FRA also intends to hold a public hearing on the Proposed Rule at a date and time to be determined.
 
The Metrics and Standards contained in the Proposed Rule are organized into four categories: on-time performance and train delays, customer service, financial, and public benefits.
 
On-time Performance
The Proposed Rule establishes a single on-time performance metric and corresponding standard: 
  • A train is on time if it arrives at a station within 15 minutes of its published scheduled arrival time
  • The standard for determining whether a route is performing sufficiently is that 80 percent of passengers for any two consecutive calendar quarters arrive on time in accordance with the performance metric
The Standards and Metrics addressed in the Proposed Rule are an integral part of implementing another provision in the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 (PRIIA), Section 213, codified at 49 U.S.C. § 24308, which authorizes the Surface Transportation Board (STB) to initiate investigations into the on-time performance of intercity passenger trains and award damages to Amtrak against host carriers responsible for the delays.
 
In order to properly identify delays affecting on-time performance, the Proposed Rule also establishes metrics that measure the degree of customer lateness and attribute delays to particular host railroads or Amtrak. The Metrics and Standards addressing host-related delays expressly include delays caused by commuter train interference or passenger train interference, as well as any other delays attributable to a host railroad that are recorded by Amtrak in accordance with Amtrak procedures.
 
Customer Service, Financial, and Public Benefits
The Proposed Rule also establishes metrics, but not minimum standards, for customer service, financial indicators, and public benefits of intercity passenger routes. Customer service metrics include survey scores for overall satisfaction, personnel satisfaction, information given, on-board comfort, cleanliness, and food service. Financial metrics are defined for cost recovery, avoidable operating costs covered by passenger revenue, fully allocated core operating costs covered by passenger revenue, and ridership. Public benefit metrics cover connectivity between Amtrak routes, missed connections, access to and from communities in rural areas near Amtrak stations with otherwise poor public transportation access, and overall service availability for residents in the top 100 metropolitan statistical areas.
 
Background 
The Proposed Rule implements Section 207 of PRIIA, which directed the FRA and the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak) to jointly develop metrics and minimum standards for intercity passenger rail on-time performance and service quality. The metrics and standards have been the subject of protracted litigation, which invalidated the previous set of metrics and standards established through a previous rulemaking process that was finalized in 2010. The current rulemaking seeks to establish metrics and standards in light of the results of that litigation.