West Coast Train Fails to Keep to Schedule

Amtrak's Coast Starlight route from Seattle to Los Angeles is notoriously late. It has been known to run as much as 11 hours behind schedule, taking the romance out of train travel for even the most devoted fans. The source of the delays, according to some, is the company that owns the railroad tracks.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

A majority of the long-distance routes followed by the nation's Amtrak trains are leased from private companies, and many passengers aren't happy with the arrangements.

S: Welcome aboard Amtrak passengers. This is the Coast Starlight...

MONTAGNE: The Coast Starlight train runs daily between Seattle and Los Angeles on one of the country's most picturesque routes. But nearly every day the train is late dropping off and picking up passengers, up to 11 hours late.

(SOUNDBITE OF LOCOMOTIVE ENGINE)

MONTAGNE: Much of the tracks on the Coast Starlight passage is owned by the Union Pacific Railroad, which runs its freight trains on the same lines. Union Pacific is supposed to give preference to Amtrak even as it maintains the tracks to keep all trains moving quickly. Passengers and rail advocates say it does neither.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRAIN WHISTLE)

MONTAGNE: Kathy Wallen(ph) boarded the train five hours late in Redding, California, just south of the Oregon border. For her, the charm of traveling by rail to Los Angeles was short-lived.

KATHY WALLEN: It was exciting getting on the train. When that train pulls in it's pretty exciting (unintelligible). The ground shakes. But there was no romance on that train when you get on and then stopping and going all the time.

MONTAGNE: Union Pacific denies that it makes Amtrak trains wait so that its own freight trains can move cargo more quickly. But the company admits that there are over 130 miles of worn track on this north/south corridor that force trains to travel very slowly. And the $18 million worth of needed repairs will run well into next year.

DAVID OLIVERA: Kind of frustrated right now.

MONTAGNE: Passenger David Olivera of Seattle wasn't much interested in the conflict over the rail lines at 3:31 recent morning. His train pulled into Los Angeles six and a half hours past the Coast Starlight's scheduled arrival, which meant he missed one of the main reasons for taking the train ride down the coast.

OLIVERA: It was nighttime. So I was hoping to see something of the Pacific Ocean, but I didn't - that didn't happen.

MONTAGNE: Passenger advocates have complained to the federal government's Surface Transportation Board about delays. Amtrak says it won't comment because it's in delicate negotiations with Union Pacific and other companies that own the tracks on which its passengers ride.

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MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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