Audit Reports

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Root Causes of Amtrak Train Delays

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On September 8, 2008, we issued our analysis of the root causes of delays to Amtrak trains operating outside the Northeast Corridor (NEC). The objectives of our audit were to: (1) identify the root causes of delays for Amtrak trains operating outside the NEC, (2) assess whether Amtrak’s passenger trains have been granted preference over freight trains as prescribed by law, (3) identify practices in dispatching trains that influence delays, and (4) evaluate whether delays in maintaining track have impacted Amtrak train delays. We found several root causes of Amtrak train delays, including; (1) host railroad dispatching practices, some of which result in preference violations; (2) track maintenance practices and the resulting speed restrictions; (3) insufficient track capacity; and (4) external factors beyond the host railroads’ control. We also identified host railroad dispatching practices that violate Amtrak’s preference rights. However, disagreements between Amtrak and the host railroads, both on how to measure delays and how to define Amtrak’s right to preference in the use of rail infrastructure, make measuring violations of preference and allocating the exact causes of delay difficult. Our recommendations to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) focused on (1) legislative changes to clarify Amtrak’s preference rights and enhanced enforcement of those rights; (2) increased involvement and oversight by the FRA to facilitate cooperative planning between Amtrak and the host railroads to reduce delays and improve Amtrak’s OTP; (3) expanded funding for rail capacity projects.