Audit Reports

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Amtrak Cascades and Coast Starlight Routes: Implementation of New Metrics and Standards is Key to Improving On-Time Performance

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On September 23, we issued our report on the causes of delays along Amtrak's Cascades and Coast Starlight routes as required by Section 224 of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 (PRIIA).  Accordingly, this report (1) describes the routes’ on-time performance (OTP) between 2004 and 2009, (2) identifies the factors underlying the routes' OTP, and (3) evaluates the impact of the Federal Railroad Administration's (FRA) new metrics and standards on OTP.  

We found that while the Coast Starlight and Amtrak Cascades lines experienced significant delays from 2004 through 2009, total minutes of delay on both lines dropped after 2006.  Several factors contributed to the decrease in delays—and ultimately the lines’ improved OTP, including improved operations by the host railroads and Amtrak and reduced freight traffic caused by the depressed economy.  FRA has taken action to develop new OTP metrics and standards, as required by PRIIA.  However, delays in issuing these new performance measures have stalled other actions that could further improve OTP over the long term.  We made recommendations to the FRA administrator to ensure that the benefits of recent Federal intercity passenger rail legislation are fully realized and improvements in OTP for the Coast Starlight and Amtrak Cascades are sustainable. FRA concurred with all of our recommendations and proposed appropriate action plans.