Traffic, construction hurts Amtrak performance

Eastbound train from Portland, Seattle had on-time rate of 0% in Oct.

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KALISPELL, Mont. — An increase in freight traffic and hundreds of millions of dollars in improvements on BNSF Railway tracks across North Dakota and Montana combined to make Amtrak travel less than reliable in recent months, BNSF officials said.

In October, the passenger train had an overall on-time performance rate of 41 percent, the Flathead Beacon reports. However, the eastbound train had a zero percent on-time performance during the same time period. The Empire Builder eastbound travels from both Portland and Seattle, and the lines come together in Spokane. The Empire Builder’s on-time performance was among the worst on the Amtrak system.

“It has certainly been a concern of ours, of BNSF Railway and of our passengers,” said Amtrak spokesperson Marc Magliari.

The Empire Builder is separate from the Amtrak Cascades, which provides service between Vancouver B.C., and Eugene, Ore., including four daily round-trips between Portland and Seattle. That Vancouver B.C. to Eugene route has an on-time performance record this year of 87 percent, said Amtrak spokeswoman Vernae Graham.

BNSF spokesman Matthew Jones said one of the main reasons for the delays for the Empire Builder are track improvements being made on the railroad’s northern route between the Midwest and the Pacific Northwest. Earlier this year, the company announced it planned to spend $115 million on track improvements in Montana and $220 million in North Dakota. The work in Montana included re-surfacing track, and replacing more than 100 miles of rail and 310,000 ties.

Jones said there are also more oil trains and general freight trains running across the Hi-Line, reflecting an improving economy. Trains carrying new automobiles have increased by 10 percent over the past year.

An average of 38 freight trains per day run between Glasgow , Mont., and Minot, N.D., which is 18 more trains than the daily average in 2008, at the height of the economic downturn, Jones said.

The track repairs are wrapping up, which should ease pressure on the system, he said.

Magliari, the Amtrak spokesman, said the railroad is expecting to be able to improve its on-time performance.