News Local/State

Everyone Agrees Amtrak’s On-Time Performance Is A Problem, But Not On How To Fix It

U.S. Representative Rodney Davis speaks after meeting with rail and local officials Friday in Champaign.

U.S. Representative Rodney Davis (center) speaks after meeting with rail and local officials Friday in Champaign. Brian Moline/Illinois Public Media

The Amtrak route between Chicago and Carbondale is the least on-time state-supported passenger rail route in the country, according to Amtrak’s own data.

Amtrak blames the Canadian National Railroad, which owns the tracks, for not giving the passenger trains priority, which is required by law.

Amtrak spokesperson Marc Magliari said Friday that one of the biggest problems is the length of Canadian National's freight trains.

“We have to keep pulling over because their dispatchers tell us to," Magliari said, "to let their big, long freight trains go through, which they’re building and running longer than there are places for them to pull over for us.”

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) introduced legislation last week that would allow Amtrak to take freight railroads to court to enforce that law.

But Congressman Rodney Davis (R-IL) said Friday he doesn’t think litigation is the answer.

“At this point, I want to try and solve the problem without going to litigation," Davis said. "Because as we all know, everybody in this room here, especially the public officials know, when litigation becomes involved, it will prolong the final solution.”

Davis called Durbin's legislation "premature." He spoke after a meeting Friday at Illinois Terminal in Champaign with officials from Amtrak, Canadian National, and municipalities along the Illini-Saluki line, including Champaign, Urbana, Carbondale, Mattoon, and Effingham.

Amtrak officials support Durbin's legislation as a way to hold freight railroads accountable if they don't give passenger trains priority.

Davis said that everyone in Friday's meeting was "looking for solutions," but was very vague about what those solutions might be. He mentioned using expertise from students at the University of Illinois to work on some possible engineering challenges.

Canadian National did not make anyone available for comment after Friday's meeting, and has not yet responded to an email request for comment.

The dispute between Amtrak and CN is a long-standing one that has involved complaints from Amtrak to the Surface Transportation Board, and a lawsuit from the Association of American Railroads (of which CN is a member) against Amtrak and the Federal Railroad Association that went all the way to the Supreme Court.